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Libretto: The Beggar’s Opera, by Ariel Vogel (second year, major in English)
Ariel takes on female stereotypes in her 1920s adaptation of Pepusch and Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, first performed in 1728. In the original operatic satire, all of the characters are subject to mockery of one sort of another, but as Ariel notes, the female characters are “simplified to the point of dehumanization.” She confronts the challenge of maintaining certain conventions of the genre—broad comedy, often achieved through character “types”—while also creating more opportunities for female characters to assert their agency and to escape the male gaze. As with many operatic comedies, the women in Ariel’s libretto may be seen as conniving and manipulative in one light. But they are also the driving force behind the plot; they express their desires and pursue them, often as their male counterparts struggle to keep up. Ariel pays close attention to musical characterization, using it to constitute a form of gendered performance: Mrs. Peachum, for example, sings sweet, consonant melodies when she plays her role as Mr. Peachum’s wife, but when she schemes behind his back, her music adopts a jazz-tinged dissonance.
The Beggar's Opera, John Gay, Johann Christoph Pepusch, gender representation
Musicology | Music Performance
Vogel, Ariel, "Libretto: The Beggar’s Opera" (2016). Music 134: Songbirds and Sirens. 4.