Attitudes with a Shawl: Performance, Femininity, and Spectatorship at the Italian Opera in Early Nineteenth-Century London

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


The focus of this chapter is the internationally celebrated bravura soprano Angelica Catalani, who, the chapter argues, reveals the ambiguities of the prima donna as a cultural figure in early nineteenth-century London. Catalani's exhibitions of "attitudes with a Shawl" were one of the means by which she asserted a claim to be taken seriously as a creative artist; but the heated exchange they provoked in the press suggests that for the masculine gaze they constituted a transgressive mix of aesthetic, voyeuristic, and sensual pleasures. By contrast, for aristocratic women in the audience, Catalani's "attitudes" modeled an idealized patrician femininity. Tracing the genealogy of Catalani's "attitudes," the chapter explores tensions and contradictions in early nineteenth-century English views of the prima donna, the role of operatic performance in negotiating femininities, and the potency of the figures of prostitute/courtesan and social-climber in regulating female performance whether on stage or in the opera box.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century
EditorsRachel Cowgill, Hilary Poriss
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages35
ISBN (Print)9780195365870
Publication statusPublished - 12 Jul 2012


  • Angelica catalani
  • Attitudes
  • Courtesan
  • Femininities
  • Gaze
  • Prostitute
  • Shawl
  • Social-climber

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