Dissertation Index

Author: Edith, Zack

Title: Carmen and Turandot: femme fatale to femme creatrice in opera

Institution: Bar-Ilan University, Israel

Begun: October 1995

Completed: June 2000


The male Romantic liked to think of his women as docile, feminine, motherly, saintly and reassuring. Yet, he was also fascinated by a different kind of woman who belonged to a culturally defined group coined by male creators as femmes fatales; erotic, dominant, free minded, willful and seductive.

In this study an integral-typological model of the operatic femme fatale is suggested, from which we may learn about the formation process of the character’s components. The model is applied to two main operas, Bizet’s Carmen (1875), Puccini’s Turandot (1924). In the last chapter it is applied also to Richard Strauss’s Salome (1905) and Alban Berg’s Lulu (1935). Mediating between body and language, between bodily gestures and rhetorical gestures, between their operatic voice and the logic of their speech, these protagonists lead to a different reading of these operas.

Although the styles of the operas are so different, their voice represents and interoperatic unity which consists of the dialectic innovating voice of the femme fatale. Carmen, as an example moves continually into chromaticism and radical modulations; but she also builds repetitive harmonic basses, typical of dance. Turandot, in comparison, takes the form of bicentric tonalities which are themselves musically ground-breaking; the princess’s harmonic basis is equally dissonant, often involving diminished or augmented chords, as well as tritone, and semi-tone progressions.

Interoperatic unity is achieved also by opposing temporal dimensions that symbolize masculine and feminine; linear time versus cyclical and repetitive time; progressive time (time of harmonic progression, time of motivic, and thematic, development) and lyrical time (time that is evoked by marching, metrical time associated with the dance). When all the opposing dimensions are fused together (aria and dance, chromaticism and diatonicism, free ranging melody and rhythmic ostinato, bitonality and traditional harmony) a discursive construction is created in which metalanguage is established. In its nature it is intertextual and intercultural.

Keywords: feminist criticism, gender theories, rhetoric, topics, gesture, discourse, tonal symbolism, color, temporality.


Chapter 1: The model of the femme fatale in nineteenth century culture - literary model; psychological model; historical background; feminist criticism.

Chapter 2: Carmen-text and music - Carmen the performer; Jose's changing nature.

Chapter 3: Turandot; ancient story, modern message - the literary text and libretto of Turandot; the music of Turandot; the fatale triangle in music; feminist criticism.

Chapter 4: The application of the model to Richard Struass's Salome (1905) and Alban Berg's Lulu (1935) - Salome as the incarnation of the four stages of the femme fatale - text and music; Lulu; an extreme femme fatale. Epilogue


Edith Zack
6 Tnuat Hameri
Kiriat-Ono, 55286
Tel: 972-3-6359686
Fax: 972-3-6358981
E-mail: zacked@mail.biu.ac.il

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