This is my interdisciplinary, practice-led project on twentieth-century musical monodrama, a new undertaking that applies a wide and multi-layered approach to vocal performance practices in modern stage works set for only one performer. My project has two main sides: it maintains a relevant theoretical and speculative core, while proposing a practical parallel approach to the study of applied performance practices.
In its narrow meaning, monodrama is a form of melodrama which features one character, sometimes with chorus, using speech in alternation with short passages of music, or sometimes speaking over music, which originated in Germany in late eighteenth-century.
Modernist and post-modern composers have nearly exclusively conceived musical monodramas as the natural performance space of a female performer and a female stream of consciousness.
They emphasized the lyrical qualities of the female voice, and adopted it as their favourite means to inspire their linguistic research. Undoubtedly they drew on the experimentations that were domain of their literary contemporaries, such as James Joyce, e.e. Cummings, and Jean Cocteau. However, in the case of twentieth-century musical monodrama, the composers’ research could rely upon an additional agent, the female performer, who contributed their unique personal interpretation of the poetic and bodily narrative to the piece, thus amplifying the dramatic space and expanding the gamut of expressive means.
By arguing that twentieth-century monodrama paralleled baroque laments in genere rappresentativo and classical cantatas scenicas, my research ties modernist musical monodrama to the aesthetics of loss, absence, and betrayal already extensively explored in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century solo performance. Furthermore, just like in the case of the baroque recitar cantando, typical of those genres, modernist and post-modern monodrama became a fruitful crucible for vocal experimentation and extended vocal technique.
Hence, I look at the early premises of the alternative role that performers and, especially, female singers were to have in avant-garde and post-modern vocal composition, where the unique performance and linguistic features they instituted into a newly composed piece became a structural part of the work itself.