John C. Young scholar Jessica Haralu ’18 researches gender identity in Mozart, Da Ponte operas

Posted by Centre News in John C. Young Program, News 09 May 2018

JessicaThis article is part of a series featuring Centre College’s 2018 John C. Young (JCY) Scholars. Centre’s JCY program, now in its 28th year, is designed to serve highly motivated seniors, allowing them to engage in independent study, research or artistic work in their major discipline or in an interdisciplinary area of their choosing.

Jessica Haralu ’18, (Harrodsburg, Kentucky) has tuned her eyes and ears to the music stylings of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Lorenzo Da Ponte operas to research the gender dynamics from their work, during her senior year as a JCY Scholar.

For her project titled “Gender Dynamics in Mozart/Da Ponte Operas,” Haralu has observed how the words and music of the two artists interact to illustrate different pictures of gender in the 18th century to current day.

As an English and music double major, she has studied classical vocal music, and the idea for her project stemmed from a fellow classmate who was interested in feminist interpretations of opera.

Haralu’s participation in Centre’s music department has also given her the opportunity to sing several arias and duets from Mozart’s operas, which also sparked her interest in the topic.

“My research included many components,” she said. “Among the most notable experiences was the opportunity to travel to New York and see Cosi fan tutte, the third opera on which I will present. The particular performance was adapted from 18th century to the 1950s, with a Coney Island setting. It was interesting to see how I interpreted this opera, set in a manner that is not too far removed from my generation.”

Haralu’s project focused on the specific ways in which the music and the libretto (words of the opera) interacted to comment on gender.

“I began chronologically with Le nozze di Figaro, where I discussed the dynamics between a young servant woman, Susanna, and her fiancé, Figaro,” she explained. “Musically, we can see that she leads the way and Figaro follows. For example, she has a specific musical contour and later, Figaro adopts an identical one; however, it is Susanna who has it first.

“I then watched different productions of the operas to see how different directors interpreted the works,” she continued. “After exploring the music and the different productions, I was then able to connect broader themes of gender that recur in each opera and how those themes are also relevant to current events. For example, the #metoo movement and the upsurge of female empowerment that really came into light this past year. My conclusion, more or less, is that these operas as an art form are still extremely relevant today due to the recent empowerment movements.”

During her year-long project, Haralu had the opportunity to work with Associate Professor of Music Nathan Link.

“Dr. Link has been my advisor for my entire time at Centre, in addition to my music professor and an ensemble instructor,” she added. “Before working with him in this capacity, I was very diffident in my ability to succeed. His encouragement and guidance enabled me to reach a better command of the material I am researching while learning interesting and applicable components of the operas, which we both love.”

Link shared how it has been a pleasure to work on Mozart’s comic operas alongside Haralu.

“Since she is not only a first-rate musical thinker but also an excellent opera singer, the perspectives she brings to these works are fantastic and have opened my eyes to aspects of the operas of which I had been unaware despite my decades of familiarity with them,” he added.

Prior to starting her research, Haralu said she was naïve to the gender dynamics that currently govern our social spheres.

“In my research of the operas, which originated in the 18th century, I learned of their timelessness,” she added. “Themes that existed hundreds of years ago still appear today, both the positive and negative.”

Due to working on this independent study on a topic Haralu is passionate about, it has allowed her to grow her own opinions toward the current place of women in society.

“I am more confident in my ability to make a positive change in the world,” she said.

After Centre, Haralu plans to work with students in higher education, specifically international students, and hopes to get a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) as well as her doctorate in international education.

by Kerry Steinhofer
May 9, 2018