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"Making the world weep"? Decapitation/Castration in Puccini's Turandot

Mitchell, Katharine (2012) "Making the world weep"? Decapitation/Castration in Puccini's Turandot. Romance Studies, 30 (2). 97–106.

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Abstract

Drawing upon Freudian psychoanalysis, in this article I argue that decapitation in Puccini’s Turandot—that is, the beheading of Turandot’s suitors—functions as an enactment of the male castration complex. As such, it is the site upon which fears of castration on the part of Puccini and the patriarchal society to which he belonged, are played out. The opera illuminates the composer’s latent misogyny—a misogyny which permeated a substantial proportion of the national psyche during the early twentieth century in Italy, as well as many men’s attitudes towards women during this period which saw the aftermath of the rise of the movement for female emancipation. I begin by discussing the theme of decapitation in the opera before examining the archetypal suffering heroine in Puccini’s œuvre. I will then focus on a secondary character from the opera, Liù, Puccini’s partial addition to the dramaturgy: Liù is made to suffer for approximately fourteen minutes during the final act, after which, somewhat sadistically, she is made to commit suicide. Following recent work by feminist musicologist Carolyn Abbate and philosopher Adriana Cavarero, I argue that Liù’s ‘undoing’ in the dramaturgy is surpassed by the ‘envoicing’ of the diva — the female performer — singing her role.