Opera: The Undoing of Women

Catherine Clement

Published by Univ of Minnesota Pr, 1989
ISBN 10: 0816616558 / ISBN 13: 9780816616558
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Synopsis: An analysis of thirty operas reveals a negative portrayal of women that reflects the nineteenth century patriarchal social order

Review: The title makes it clear: this is a book with an emphatic point of view. Clément, a French feminist philosopher, has written an intensely subjective meditation on the unhappy fate of women in opera. The result is often infuriating, sometimes enlightening.

Clément is an enthusiast whose passion for opera struggles with revulsion at much of its content. Critics are dry, remote--and male. She prefers a poetic, Freudian approach that leaves out something crucial to her argument: cultural context. The grim choices historically available to women haven't been peculiar to opera: murder, suicide, disease, and madness have also been their lot in drama and the novel. Perhaps it's Western civilization that has been the undoing of women.

Clément finds the experience of the opera house almost too powerful. Here she examines texts with an awareness not "dimmed by beauty and the sublime," an exercise that has a cumulative effect. She highlights the social framework of plots otherwise exalted by music: in La Bohème, a bitter tale of freezing poverty; in Tosca, a heroine who acts against a police state; in The Magic Flute, a battle of the sexes told by the winning side (i.e., male). But La Fanciulla del West, with a victorious central character, has never been as popular: "Opera lovers do not like this antiheroine. She is made for tomorrow."

By the lengthy final chapter, on the Ring cycle, the author has relaxed her argument. She casts an eye on both male and female, on the themes of love, incest, and the triumph of human over god. Her ecstatic response to the cycle's music--not to mention the gender-indiscriminate "undoing"--lays her conflict with opera to rest. She is, as she says elsewhere, "silenced by emotion."

Clément's writing, in Betsy Wing's deft translation, is amusing and unacademic. Her readings entertain without always persuading--or even involving--the reader. In that way, the book evokes Wayne Koestenbaum's The Queen's Throat, another case of a sensibility run rampant. Like that book, The Undoing of Women can inspire fruitful thoughts despite its own perverseness. --David Olivenbaum

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Title: Opera: The Undoing of Women
Publisher: Univ of Minnesota Pr
Publication Date: 1989
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used - Good

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Catherine Clement
Published by Univ of Minnesota Pr (1988)
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Book Description Univ of Minnesota Pr. Paperback. Book Condition: VERY GOOD. Light rubbing wear to cover, spine and page edges. Very minimal writing or notations in margins not affecting the text. Possible clean ex-library copy, with their stickers and or stamp(s). Bookseller Inventory # 2838984134

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Book Description University of Minnesota Press. Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Ex-Library Book - will contain Library Markings. Book shows minor use. Cover and Binding have minimal wear, and the pages have only minimal creases. Bookseller Inventory # G0816616558I3N10

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Book Description Univ of Minnesota Pr, 1989. Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Item may show signs of shelf wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. Includes supplemental or companion materials if applicable. Access codes may or may not work. Connecting readers since 1972. Customer service is our top priority. Bookseller Inventory # S_184400367

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Book Description Univ of Minnesota Pr. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: Good. 0816616558 front page corner clipped.noe---. Bookseller Inventory # 0816616558NOE

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Book Description Univ of Minnesota Pr. PAPERBACK. Book Condition: Good. 0816616558 Good. Light to moderate shelf wear to covers/corners. Trade paperback binding. Support Last Word Books & Press and independent booksellers. Bookseller Inventory # SKU9138551

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Published by Univ of Minnesota Pr (1989)
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Book Description Univ of Minnesota Pr, 1989. Paperback. Book Condition: Good. Item may show signs of shelf wear. Pages may include limited notes and highlighting. Includes supplemental or companion materials if applicable. Access codes may or may not work. Connecting readers since 1972. Customer service is our top priority. Bookseller Inventory # S_193896073

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Clément, Catherine, 1939-
Published by Translated by Betsy Wing, foreword by Susan McClary. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1988 (1988)
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Book Description Translated by Betsy Wing, foreword by Susan McClary. Minneapolis : University of Minnesota Press, 1988, 1988. , xviii, 201pp., PAPERBACK, good copy but edges soiled, top corner lightly bumped, otherwise very good CONTENTS: Foreword : The undoing of opera : toward a feminist criticism of music / Susan McClary -- Prelude -- Prima Donnas, or the circus of women -- Dead women -- Family affairs, or the Parents terribles -- The girls who leap into space -- Furies and gods, or wanings of the moon -- Madmen, negroes, jesters, or the heroes of deception ; The tetralogic of the ring, or the daughter done for -- Finale : In praise of paganism. ISBN 0816616558. Bookseller Inventory # 42622

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