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Kate Driscoll (University of California, Berkeley)

Kate Driscoll

Kate Driscoll
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Fellow in Research Area 2: "Travelling Matters"

July 2020 – June 2021

Opera Without Borders: The Multicultural Libretto in the Age of Nations

Kate Driscoll's project at EXC 2020 illustrates the translocal and comparative impacts of opera on early modern ideas of political communities and later assertions of nationalist identities in Italy, France, and Spain. While opera has often been defined as a national art form, this research traces how musical-theatrical productions mapped cultural mobility within, and sometimes in resistance to, the patriotic fervour and religious reform that swept across Europe between the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Taking the opera libretto as a unique example of artistic creation that bridges the page and the stage, the project underscores this form's ability to narrate hybrid communities through the theatrical depiction of mixed societies. In this analysis, the operatic stage emerges as a site for the multilayered representations of race, religion, and multilingualism. By tracing the positive effects brought about by intercultural dialogue and its performances for live audiences, this approach complements the dominant discourse on orientalism as colonialism.

Opera without Borders traverses national and linguistic frontiers, as it contextualizes musicians, composers, and librettists as mobile, multicultural ambassadors – figures who shaped the multicultural climate of the early European performing arts. The operas analysed in this project juxtapose the alien and the familiar, and convey their interconnectivity, thus confounding the categorical "differences" upon which institutional authorities were dependent in propelling separatist notions of home and belonging. Case studies include the representation of Cortés's "tyrannical" invasion of Aztec Mexico in Vivaldi's Motezuma; Rameau's Les Indes galantes and its depiction of common humanity across Ottoman Turkey, Inca Peru, Persia, and North America; Spanish colonial variations on and community integration of zarzuelas in Cuba, the Philippines, and Argentina; and productions by touring European opera companies that, after the opening of the Suez canal, travelled across the Dutch Indies, French Indochina, and Singapore, as part of the global expansion of trade economies and theatre networks.

Kate Driscoll (Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, 2020) specializes in early modern Italy and Europe. Her research interests include the relationship between literature and politics, the history of the performing arts, and questions of cultural transmission and reception. In addition to beginning her second book-length project on opera and multiculturalism, Kate Driscoll will revise her dissertation and expand it into a book during her time as a postdoctoral fellow at EXC 2020. This study demonstrates how Torquato Tasso's (1544–1595) socialized literary production – his letters, lyric poetry, dialogues, and epics about mobility and hospitality – reflects the various communities with which he interacted, and which fostered participation by women writers, performers, and patrons. The arguments advanced in this study reveal how Tasso's multifaceted connections with women shaped the sixteenth- and seventeenth-expansion of cultural networks – literary, musical, theatrical, and scientific – in which opportunities for women and men to collaborate increased due to developments in the notions of collective authorship and group identity. Her research on issues of women's eloquence and public performance on the early modern stage, women's organization of intellectual academies in seventeenth-century Rome and Naples, and sixteenth-century pilgrimage guides for travel in the Mediterranean have been supported by grants from the American Council of Learned Societies, the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation, the Renaissance Society of America, and the Ahmanson Research Fellowship at the UCLA Special Collections Library.