The Clever Maid: A Lecture Recital on the Soubrette Soprano Role in Mozart's Operas

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What is a soubrette? A literal definition of the French word soubrette is “maid.” In the world of music, the term is used to describe a particular type of soprano role in operatic theatre. The term has meaning both as to the character type of the role, as well as the vocal characteristics of the singer. Soubrette sopranos tend to be young, spunky, in-control women. They have light, bright voices, usually without an extensive upper range, but with flexibility. One of the first soubrette roles in the operatic genre was Serpina in Pergolesi’s 1733 La Serva Padrona. Through various clever tricks, disguises and schemes, Serpina was successful in crossing the boundary from servant to noble, by winning the heart of her employer, and marrying him. This concept of crossing social boundaries is present in many soubrette roles. This lecture recital will examine a brief history of the soubrette role in opera, as well as a more in-depth analysis of the soubrette roles in three of Mozart’s operas: Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, and Despina in Cosi fan tutte. The recital will include performances of two of Mozart’s soubrette arias.

First Advisor

Tracelyn Gesteland

Second Advisor

David Moskowitz

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