Callas and the aural stare

What happens when we watch and hear a female performer? We are observing her, yet we are also doing something for which there’s no word: the aural version of staring… Visually, the character singing is the passive object of our gaze. But, aurally, she is resonant; her musical speech drowns out everything in range, and we sit as passive objects, battered by that voice. As a voice she slips into the “male/active/subject” position in other ways as well, since a singer, more than any other musical performer, enters into that Jacobine uprising inherent in the phenomenology of live performance and stands before us having wrested the composing voice away from the librettist and composer who wrote the score.
Carolyn Abbate, “Opera: or, the Envoicing of Women”
The image shows Maria Callas as Violetta in Verdi’s La traviata at La Scala, c. 1955. The sound clip, instead, is from the Lisbon Traviata of 1958, with Alfredo Kraus as Alfredo.

Reminder: A snippet of video footage of Callas and Kraus in La traviata survives.

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