An opera singer’s Gothic fiction: the autobiographies of Sims Reeves

Barry, A. M. (2019) An opera singer’s Gothic fiction: the autobiographies of Sims Reeves. Journal of Musicological Research. ISSN 0141-1896 (print) 1547-7304 (online) (In Press)

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Abstract

In George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda (1876), the eponymous protagonist is “stung to the quick” by the suggestion that he could become like the famous Italian tenors Mario and Tamberlik. He is offended because he believes that their profession is “not thought of [as being] among possible destinations for the sons of English gentlemen.” As this quotation suggests, opera was seen as a particularly unsuitable occupation for a man in nineteenth-century Britain, for which there were two main reasons. Firstly, music was widely considered to be a feminised pursuit that compromised the perceived masculinity of men who were professional singers. Secondly, the identity of British singers was complicated still further, since opera attracted prejudice as an Italian art form that was frequently imagined to be at odds with the British character. Due to such attitudes, it became imperative for British male opera singers to assert their masculinity, respectability, and national identity. The genre of autobiography offered these men a unique chance to do so, and a number of singers across the century seized the opportunity. Although the majority of these autobiographies have hitherto been neglected by scholars, they are complex and often unusual works that deserve critical attention. Within this body of literature, the writings of one singer are particularly fascinating: those of the tenor Sims Reeves (1821–1900).

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sims Reeves (1821–1900), opera, singing, tenor, masculinity, autobiography
Subjects: Music History
Music and society
Division: Musicology
Depositing User: Ms Katharine Liley
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2019 13:34
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2019 13:34
URI: http://researchonline.rcm.ac.uk/id/eprint/566

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