Emily Wilbourne

Emily Wilbourne

Francesco De Dombrowski Fellow
Opera's Others: Musical Representations of Racialized Difference in Baroque Italy


Emily Wilbourne is Associate Professor of Musicology at Queens College and the Graduate Center in the City University of New York, and Editor in Chief of Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture. Recent and forthcoming publications consider the queerness of the castrati, the relationship between Virginia Andreini and Artemisia Gentileschi, and indecency and breastfeeding in seventeenth-century opera. Her book, Seventeenth-Century Opera and the Sound of the Commedia dell’Arte, was published in 2016 by the University of Chicago Press. In 2011, Dr. Wilbourne was awarded the Philip Brett Award for excellence in queer music scholarship.

Project Summary 

This project considers the voices of Europe’s “Others”—Turks, Black Africans, Jews, Romani, and native “savages”—as represented in theatrical sound and music during the seventeenth century. Musically, this period is marked by a sharp break with existing practice, long interpreted by scholars as representative of a new European subjectivity; historically, the age is one of world exploration, the colonial encounter, and the beginnings of global capitalism (as epitomized by the Atlantic slave trade). In music history, these changes are rarely considered together, though I will argue that they are inextricably linked. In the voice, epistemologies of embodiment and metaphors of belonging co-exist, and thus, the music written for “Othered” characters testifies to their perceived humanity (or lack thereof) and their presumed capacity (or incapacity) to operate within cultural norms. Crucially, through my analyses, I place the very meaning of “Other” under some historical pressure. Heard against the noisy, multicultural, early modern Italian city, these voices complicate widely accepted musical historical narratives of cultural unity and autonomous stylistic development, as they offer an audible echo of early modern vocality.