Scandalous by Profession: Opera in Eighteenth-Century Europe

Felicity Moran
2018 Armstrong Undergraduate Journal of History  
When the eighteenth-century operatic soprano Francesca Cuzzoni (1696-1778) refused to sing an aria George Frederick Handel (1685-1759) had written for her, he grabbed her and said, "I know you are a she-devil, but I am Beelzebub, the king of all the devils, and I swear that if you don't sing that air this very minute, I'll throw you out of the window." 1 Although this anecdote might encourage feelings of sympathy for the singer, a closer examination reveals that Handel was very likely at his
more » ... ry likely at his wit's end with Cuzzoni. Many opera singers of the eighteenth century, both male and female, were extremely difficult people with a penchant for highhandedness and erratic behavior, largely because opera was one of the most popular and influential art forms in Europe during the 1700s. In the major centers of European culture, especially Naples, Paris, and London, the art form reflected cultural attitudes and deeply affected the masses. Opera stars commanded the attention of the public by being at the center of cultural life. However, a strange incongruency existed with regard to them as well. Opera singers were popular and influential, but they were also scandalous individuals. Though they entertained all 42 Moran: Scandalous by Profession
doi:10.20429/aujh.2018.080203 fatcat:xffhkwyzlva3za2yn5apospbe4