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Adelaide Kemble and the Voice as Means

Adelaide Kemble and the Voice as Means

(p.121) Chapter 6 Adelaide Kemble and the Voice as Means
London Voices, 1820-1840
Matildie Thom Wium
University of Chicago Press

This chapter considers how English soprano Adelaide Kemble (1815-79) interacted with conceptions of her voice as a means to an array of different ends, revealing her attempt to manage the application of contemporary prima donna mythology to her public and private personae. It suggests that Kemble and her circle seem to have been particularly sensitive to the reputational dangers of the myth of the avaricious prima donna, and that they may have downplayed the unpalatable idea that Kemble’s voice was a means to money by emphasizing other ends it could achieve. Kemble drew on the operatic trope (drawn in her case from the plot of I Puritani) of the voice as a means of memory in her correspondence with an aristocratic family into which she hoped to marry; this notion was complicated later by her sister Fanny, who worried about Adelaide’s sacrifice of financial independence when she married. The chapter continues to propose that conceiving of Kemble’s voice as a means of Romantic transcendence and of contributing to national aspirations for the opera constituted further manipulations of prima donna mythology in order to claim and develop its positive components.

Keywords:   Adelaide Kemble, opera, prima donna, memory, domesticity, romanticism, nationalism

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