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Melanie Gudesblatt

My work focuses on the cultural history of voice and vocal sound in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, drawing on an archive consisting of reviews, letters to newspaper editors, poetry, satire, and visual material (including cartoons). In my dissertation project, I track the fallout in Germany and Austria from large-scale changes to operatic vocal writing that spanned late nineteenth-century Europe, with a focus on the relationship between stylistic change and audile technique. I argue that compositional developments unsettled listeners’ expectation for voice to be dominant in opera, and describe new habits of interpretation whereby operatic voices and vocal sounds could be made to serve a staggering variety of political, cultural, and scientific projects.

Born and raised on Long Island, New York, I grew up going to see Broadway shows, experiences that sparked my enduring fascination with theater and stagecraft. I received my BA in Music from Cornell University in 2009, during which time I also worked as an Education Intern at the Metropolitan Opera Guild. After I graduated college, I took a year to work—first as a research assistant to Neal Zaslaw for Der neue Köchel project and later as the National Symphony Orchestra Education Intern at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC—before moving to London to pursue the MMus in Musicology at King’s College London. In 2012 I began my PhD at UC Berkeley, supported by a Berkeley-Mellon Fellowship.

During my time at Berkeley, I’ve co-organized a conference (“EZ” Music, 2016) on ways in which scholars might engage with generic, repetitive, or other hyper-legible music. I’ve also taught a wide range of courses, and in 2015 Berkeley’s Teaching and Resource Center recognized me as an Outstanding Graduate Student Instructor. My secondary interest in American musical theater led me to develop a popular undergraduate course in which students use the history of musical theater to interrogate current debates about American identity, immigration, race relations, and media. In 2018–19, I am the Una’s Fellow Dissertation Fellow at Berkeley’s Doreen B. Townsend Center for the Humanities.

Research Interests

Discourses of voice, technologies of operatic performance, transnational musical economies, American musical theater (particularly as regards questions of race and identity formation), the history of “modernity”


“Origins of a Menschendarstellerin: Characterization and Operatic Performance in fin-de-siècle Vienna” (forthcoming in 2019 from the Journal of the Royal Musical Association)

Papers Presented

2018 “Animating Opera after Wagner,” presented at the conference “Wagner 1900” (Oxford, UK)

2017 “Giving Soul to a Music Box: Character and Voice in fin-de-siècle Vienna,” presented at the 83rd Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society (Rochester).

2017 “Perceiving Humanness at the Opera, Vienna 1900,” presented as part of the seminar “Sights and Sounds: Mediating the Senses in German-Speaking Europe” at the Annual Meeting of the German Studies Association (Atlanta)

2016 “Hamilton, History, and Us,” presented at the conference “EZ Music” (Berkeley).

2015 “Elektra and the Ambiguity of the Scream,” presented at the 81st Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society (Louisville).

2013 “Riots, Revision, and Rupture: Insurrection in Luc Bondy’s Don Carlos,” presented at the conference “Verdi’s Third Century: Italian Opera Today” (New York).