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Friday, August 2, 2013

What's so Naughty About Opera Singers?


The Lady Scribes are very happy to welcome Regency adventure author Shana Galen as our guest blogger today. Her novella, The Spy Wore Blue, is available for pre-order and will be released August 6th!

If you’ve ever read one of my books, you might expect to see me post about spies during the Regency period in England. In fact, my latest novella, The Spy Wore Blue: A Lord and Lady Spy novella is about a spy first introduced in Lord and Lady Spy. But Blue is only one of the characters in the novella. The other is his estranged wife, Helena Giles.

Helena is an opera singer living and working at the Teatro di San Carlo in Naples, Italy. In the novella, Blue makes frequent reference to the fact that Helena has lived up to the reputation of her fellow opera singers. What was that reputation? What was so naughty about singing opera?

Historically, women have not been allowed to perform on stage. In Shakespeare’s time, men played the women’s roles. It was considered unseemly for a woman to flaunt herself of stage. By the Regency era, this prohibition had been lifted, but no respectable woman would have dared set foot on stage. No matter how much acclaim the renowned actresses of the day—Sarah Siddons or Hannah Murphy—or the well-known opera singers—Catalani and Billington—might have received, respectable women did not perform in front of the masses.

Of course, it was perfectly acceptable for a young lady to show her talents on the pianoforte or to sing in front of a small group of family and friends, but performing on the stage at Drury Lane or Covent Garden were frowned upon. Part of the “naughtiness” of opera singers is rooted in truth. Opera singers as well as actresses had to change clothing quickly. Although there were dressing rooms during the Regency, anyone who has participated in a theatrical production knows that sometimes quick changes are necessary and performers are exposed. Further, actors and novelists have long been referred to as starving artists. It’s not surprising, therefore, that opera singers had reputations for trading sexual favors for a man’s monetary protection. This was probably not true of all opera singers or actresses, but these women certainly had more freedom than women in more traditional roles. Opera singers traveled the world, performing at various opera houses. They worked long hours to rehearse and then perform plays and operas. They formed close relationships with men who were not their fathers or brothers.

Angelica Catalani
Two well-known opera singers from the Regency period are Angelica Catalani and Elizabeth Billington. Catalani was an Italian soprano who was rumored to have a range of three octaves. She made her London debut at the King’s Theater in 1806 and lived in England for many years. Like many of the great opera singers of her time, Catalani taught singing as well as performed. 

Elizabeth Billington
Elizabeth Billington was a British opera singer who was described as having a sweet and flexible soprano voice but who was criticized as lacking feeling or acting talent. She is a prime example of one of the “naughty” opera singers. In 1792 a memoir about her was published which contained letters from Billington to her mother detailing her multiple affairs, illegitimate children, incest in her family, and the homosexual liaisons of her husband. The memoir was later discredited, but Billington was forced to flee to the Continent. She later returned to England and performed Artaxerxes at Covent Garden. We know this is an opera Jane Austen herself saw performed. Was Billington the opera singer she saw singing the role of Mandane?

When I was writing the character of Helena in The Spy Wore Blue I included a bit of Catalani and Billington in my character of Helena. Like these well-known opera singers, Helena is a soprano and performs in London. Like Billington, she flees to the Continent and takes a position with the respected Teatro di San Carlo, where Billington also made a triumphant comeback. And like the opera singers of her time, Helena has certainly earned her naughty reputation. But much like Billington, not all of the rumors may be believed.

Who are some of your favorite actors or musicians, and do you think they will be remembered two hundred years from now? One person who comments will win a copy of the first book in this series, Lord and Lady Spy (U.S. and Canada only).



The Spy Wore Blue: A Lord and Lady Spy Novella—August 2013
An exciting new novella in the popular Lord and Lady Spy series. Blue, an elite spy, tracks an assassin to Naples and the theater where his estranged wife performs. As he falls in love with his Helena again, Blue races to apprehend the assassin before he destroys them both.


Shana Galen is the bestselling author of fast-paced adventurous Regency historicals, including the RT Reviewers’ Choice The Making of a Gentleman. Her books are published all over the world and have been featured in the Rhapsody and Doubleday Book Clubs. She taught English at the middle and high school level off and on for eleven years. Most of those years were spent working in Houston's inner city. Now she writes full time. She’s happily married and has a daughter who is most definitely a romance heroine in the making. Shana loves to hear from readers: visit her website or see what she’s up to daily on Facebook and Twitter.

36 comments:

  1. Wow...would they be remembered in 200 years? I don't know how many actors and musicians of our day will be remembered for such a long time. My favorite musicians (U2) have stood the test of decades, but 200 years is a long, long time...

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    1. I agree, Catherine. 200 years is a long time, but if any band can stand the test of time, it's U2.

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  2. Hi Shana,
    We're so glad to have you with us today. I love the blog topic. I'm with Catherine. I don't know how many modern actors and musicians will be known 200 years from now. Maybe Jack Nicholson. Seems like he has lived a colorful like that might be interesting to future generations.

    One advantage our age has over the Regency era is our ability to keep more lasting records. Paper and print books don't stand up to the elements well and books weren't necessarily as widespread. Then film came along. I know who Charlie Chaplin was even though he was born in 1889, but only because of old film. Film has its issues too, but now we have all this digital stuff. I think in 76 years people may still know who Charlie Chaplin was, so there may be actors and musicians people know about in 200 years. The Rolling Stones will probably still be touring. ;)

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    1. That's true. We have so many more ways to document and archive materials. Even photographs from the Victorian age are now available online.

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  3. I think Whitney Houston will be and Elvis Presley. They both have made the news more than most. As for as Actors/Actresses I would say that Elizabeth Taylor, Jack Nicholson.

    Thanks

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    1. Elvis for sure. The Beatles is another, I think.

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  4. Hi, Shana, and welcome to Lady Scribes!Your novella sounds right up my alley! My latest book is about a spy in King George III's court and I have a yet to be finished book about a spy who has a famous opera singer mother who has caught Napoleon's eye! Needless to say, I'm going to go purchase your book. The history caught my attention right away!

    I think in this day and age of everything being recorded that it's definitely possible a famous actor, actress or musicians will be remembered two hundred years from now. One of my favorite authors is Tolstoy and I'd like to think he'll be remembered in two hundred more years!

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    1. Tolstoy has been remembered this long, and I think his work is pretty timeless. I'd be surprised if he wasn't remembered in 200 years.

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  5. Waving hi, Shana!! Love your cover and title! I loved going to the opera when I was living in NJ and could go to NY. Really wonderful talent. Sounds like a fun novella!!!

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    1. Thanks! I've always wanted to write an opera singer.

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  6. Hi!

    Love your spy books. :)

    I enjoyed Michael Jackson and Beyoncé. But 200 yrs later? Not sure if they'll remember....

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    1. Thanks, May. I think we'll have to see if either of those celebrities are remembered in 50 years. If so, there's a chance.

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  7. I'm a huge fan of Hugh Jackman, but I don't think he'll be remembered 200 years from now.

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    1. I don't know, Ashley, he's pretty cute...

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  8. Welcome to LadyScribes, Shana. I loved the topic of your post. The history of theatre, opera, ballet, etc. in London has always fascinated me. I've recently spent time researching ballet during the Regency period in both London and Milan. As far as who will be remembered, I think the Beatles and Elvis.

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    1. Jane, I agree completely. The Beatles and Elvis do seem to have really stood the test of time.

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  9. Shana,
    I'm a tremendous fan and am so, so excited to see you at Lady Scribes!!!

    One of my favorite actors is Tom Hanks...I like the diversity of roles he has and can play and I think that is the mark of a memorable actor. In terms of how history will remember him, hmmm that's a tricky one. Film is a newer medium so it will be interesting to see (and we probably won't be around for it) how history memorializes screen actors.

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    1. Thanks, Christi! Tom Hanks is a great choice, I think. Kind of like Clark Gable and Jimmy Stewart.

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  10. Some before me said Elvis and the Beatles and they do seems to have made their mark ... more current I would think would be Bon Jovi as he seems to have kept his career going when many of his starting era have fizzled.

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    1. Oh, Bon Jovi is a good choice. Maybe Bruce Springsteen too.

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  11. Everyone seems to be on the same page about who will truly be remembered. Elvis is most definitely live on as will Frank Sinatra. I would like to think that musicians such as violinist, Andre Rieu, will be remembered. His music is incredibly awesome!

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    1. How could we forget Old Blue Eyes, Connie? Of course!

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  12. I imagine, because they also wrote the music/lyrics, the Beatles will be remembered in 200 years.

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    1. That was my first thought, too!

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    2. Isn't it surprising how many music acts don't write their own music? These days it seems rare.

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  13. Three of my favorite actors are Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, and Katharine Hepburn. I have other favorites also. They've stood the test of time for now -- but another 200 years? I doubt it.
    I think the music that will last, maybe even another 200 years, will be Mozart, Bach, the classical type music.

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    1. Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven have definitely stood the test of time thus far. In my own experience of singing opera, I've found there are many, many artists who were contemporaries of those three greats and are not remembered at all. Donna, those are three of my favorite actors too.

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  14. I think Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy will last another 200 years. After all, we just celebrated the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice.

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  16. Oh, I have to agree with elizabeth schrodele, but my Mr. Darcy is Matthew Macfayden! couldn't we have named authors instead? :)
    Okay, so actors my choice would have to be Marilyn Monroe (she continues to define a curvy, beautiful, tormented soul to this day)
    and Denzel Washington, his acting is breath-taking. It doesn't matter if he is playing Don Pedro in "Much Ado about Nothing" , a lawyer who puts his prejudices aside in "Philadelphia" or biographies Steven Biko or Malcolm X. Another actor would have to be Tom Hanks, from serious to comedic, to romantic lead, this man can do it all! Musicians, my guess would be of course Elvis and Ms. Aretha Franklin.

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    1. Hey, far be it from me to constrain you! Name writers, if you like! I think you did a pretty good job with the actors, though. You named some great ones.

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  17. Hi Shana!

    Congratulations on your release of The Spy Wore Blue next Tuesday! I'm so glad that Blue is having his own story and I fell in love with him when I read Lord and Lady Spy when it was first released.

    You can be sure that I'll be pre-ordering True Spies so that it magically appears on my Kindle on September 3rd!

    Ever since I went to college in Arizona in the 1960's I've been an avid country western addict. Since I grew up in up-state New York and now live in New England it's not the "norm" in my neighborhood to have country western song playing on the radio while your outside doing work in the garden but I can't help it but to me there isn't anything better than listening to his songs like "How Do You Like Me Now? I must admit since I was in All City choir while in High School I'm sure if I ever met up with any of my old High School friends now they wouldn't believe how much I love to here a country western star crooning his song!

    Do I think these singers will be remembered? Maybe not but wouldn't it be a world with less if we couldn't listen to songs that give a voice to what we're thinking ourselves but not able to express?

    Who can resist laughing when listening to other country western singers singing songs like "I'm Going to Miss" while he tells her girlfriend/wife that he'd rather go fishing?

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    1. I live in Houston, Jeanne, so I hear a lot of C&W music whether I want to or not. I do think some songs will be remembered because they're so funny and the humor is timeless. I've always liked how clever C&W artists are and how they don't take themselves so seriously.

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  18. Congratulations to C. Blanksvard, winner of the copy of Shana's book Lord and Lady Spy! Email Samantha to make arrangements to receive your copy:
    samantha@samanthagraceauthor.com

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