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Isabelle de Charrière's operatic ambitions


In this paper I will examine how the historical significance of Isabelle de Charrière’s contributions to music and opera has evolved since the publication of her Œuvres complètes some twenty-five years ago. I will do so with reference to the critical reception of my recent book, Women writing opera: creativity and controversy in the age of the French Revolution (2001), which discusses Charrière in the context of the unusual flowering of opera by women in the decades surrounding the French Revolution. Several interrelated areas have been singled out by reviewers of the book as particularly important: first, the richness and uniqueness of Charrière’s letters, which show an ambitious woman librettist and composer commenting in detail on every step of professional musical creation, performance, and publication, in particular highlighting the complications caused by her gender; second, the importance of Charrière’s status as a failed composer, a status that leaves valuable traces of the specific difficulties women had with operatic composition; third, Charrière’s position vis-à-vis the democratization of opera in the late eighteenth century, and on the nature of authorship for eighteenth-century composers and librettists; Charrière’s reflections on such topics as ambition, professionalism, collaboration, genius, and success.

SvD, July 2008

  • Publications > Volumes WomenWriters > Isabelle de Charrière > Jacqueline Letzter

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