How Musical Is Gesture? Review of Mary Ann Smart. 2004. Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press

Cruz, Gabriela

The complexities of opera’s entanglement with the physical world is the subject of Mary Ann Smart’s latest book, Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera. Bodies are, of course, central to the experience of opera, but they have only recently begun to attract serious scholarly interest. Mimomania tells a particular history of the body in opera, one only marginally concerned with actual scenes of performance or real singers on stage. This is the story of the body as musical signifier or of the peculiar composerly obsession with putting flesh to music. Mimomania is not a history of mélodrame. Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Pygmalion (1770) receives no mention here, and this book is also the wrong place to look for a narrative of the genre’s subsequent history. The book is, instead, the first sustained and unembarrassed contemplation f the melodramatic logic that underwrites the history of nineteenth-century opera.


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August 18, 2022