Callas and the “envoicing” of women

Composers’ dependence on women is unique to opera. Beethoven piano sonatas can be played by men, and men are capable of playing the trombone or conducting an orchestra, but no boy soprano could ever sing operatic female roles. Women are thus critical in authoring the operatic work as an audible reality; they cannot be prohibited from the work’s production unless (as Britten did) the composer limits himself to an all-male cast. And once they start singing, these women—cozily envisaged as pleasurable objects—will begin creating sound instead.
Carolyn Abbate, “Opera; or, the Envoicing of Women”
I think that Abbate’s point about boy sopranos may hold only for “modern” opera. Isn’t it true that in eighteenth-century Rome, for example, Papal censors did not allow women on stage, and female rôles were taken by boys?

(Let’s not even go near the issue of castrati, and of whether or not they be “boys,” “males,” or what have you.)

The image, I believe, shows Maria Callas as Medea, in the Margherita Wallmann production that opened the 1953–1954 La Scala season. (If you happen to know otherwise, please speak up.)

Bon week-end à tous !


  1. In Shakespeare's time, all roles were played by men, too. Excellent quote.

  2. Thanks, Gale, for your visit and your comment.