• The Face That Launched A Hundred Arias: Helen of Troy and the Reversal of a Reputation in Seventeenth-Century Venetian Opera

    Reba Wissner (see profile)
    American Musicological Society
    Greeks--Social life and customs, Civilization, Greco-Roman, Music, Opera
    Item Type:
    Classical Greek culture
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    One of most enigmatic figures in mythology is Helen of Troy. The portrait that ancient authors and scholars alike paint is that of a woman with an uncertain history and a name marred by generations, both contemporary with her life, as well as those contemporary with ours. Each of these stories has an agenda in that each writer means to portray Helen in a certain light: none of these works manages to keep a neutral or ambivalent tone in Helen’s depiction. Since the story of Helen’s life is so ambiguous, classical scholars tend to be uncertain as to the veracity of the adventures that each author has Helen embark upon and exactly which of the accounts, if any, are true. As a result, many of these accounts cause a high level of duplicity among scholars, since she is often subjected to both blame and praise. Regardless, all of these sources send the same message: women are dangerous and are not to be trusted, and that they are responsible for all that is wrong in society. Helen, of course, is, and rather unfortunately so, the archetype. In contrast, seventeenth-century Venetian opera portrays Helen quite differently, usually as a victim of circumstances beyond her control. This treatment differs from the way the ancient writers depict her. This article examines the various portrayals of Helen in ancient and early modern writings, and compares them to seventeenth-century Venetian operatic portrayals. The origins and reasons for this phenomenon are also investigated.
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    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    6 years ago
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