Spectacles of Sensational Science: Locating the “Real” Bodies of Verismo Opera, 1880-1926


Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowships




This project investigates how scientific practices from 1880 to 1926 informed new modes of expressing bodily sensation and gender identity in Italian realist, or “verismo,” opera. Outlining European histories of spiritualism, hypnotism, criminology, and forensics, this project shows how verismo’s indebtedness to these discourses gave way to the genre’s ability to critique social deviance, formulate “objective” prototypes of masculinity and femininity, and qualify personal autonomy for modern Italian audiences. Using music alongside medical treatises and archival sources, this study argues that verismo opera and contemporary science worked together as a powerful force of nation-building in the decades following Italian unification, providing a means of defining the bodies of the country’s diverse citizens.