Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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From Callas To Netrebko: Diva power, vocality, and the mediatisation of the operatic voice

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posted on 2021-12-08, 09:16 authored by Jennifer WollermanJennifer Wollerman

Maria Callas’s fame as an opera star in the 1950s is still recognised today, and, for many, her name is synonymous with the modern concept of the opera ‘diva’. The increasing diversity of mediatised forms of operatic performances since her time has altered the way audiences engage with the art form. This has implications for singers in terms of values around vocality, authorship and power, and, in particular, the agency of singers in creating the meaningful, affective, and distinctively personal vocal tone that opera calls for. I suggest that for “divas” as defined by twentieth- and twenty-first century global stardom, power is amassed at least in part through particular ways in which they make use of their vocality or vocal timbre, and the way they manage their voices’ presentation in the mediatised versions of their performances.  The recent turn towards a performative focus in musicology encourages the investigation of such aspects of performance. While authorship remains central in the consideration of performance, the contribution of the singer to the authorial and creative process has tended to be ignored, and at times the singer’s work has been regarded as servile to the point of nullification. A critical examination of scholarly writings around operatic performance, with reference to those of diva, voice, and stardom studies, forms the foundation of my study. In case studies of Callas and two later divas, Kiri Te Kanawa and Anna Netrebko, I examine the individual vocality of each singer, their interaction with the forms of mediatisation of their time, their position in the continuum of vocal fashion and influence, and the function of all of these factors in relation to perceptions of creative agency.  My study investigates these issues from the standpoint of a singer, and it provides insights into the singer’s processes around the creation of vocality. It offers a new perspective through a fine-tuned analysis of vocal production, which reconnects perceptions of specific timbres with explicitly defined techniques for their production. Through this dissertation I show how signature vocality works: how it is created and managed by these divas, and how the mediatisation of vocality affects perceptions of their power as performers.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

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Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


Van Rij, Inge; Cannady, Kimberly