Martha Feldman earns Laing Prize from Press for her book, Opera and Sovereignty

Martha Feldman, Professor in Music and the College, has received the Gordon J. Laing Prize from the University of Chicago Press for her 2007 book, Opera and Sovereignty: Transforming Myths in Eighteenth-Century Italy.

The Laing Prize, given annually since 1963, honors the faculty author, editor or translator of a book published in the preceding three years that has brought the Press the greatest distinction. President Robert J. Zimmer presented Feldman with the award at an April 22 award ceremony.

At the celebration, University of Chicago Press Director Garrett Kiely praised the committee that selected Feldman's book, and characterized their debate as "spirited, enlightening-and ultimately persuasive."

"Opera and Sovereignty has received great acclaim for its breadth and methodological ambition," President Zimmer noted. "[The critics] are right: Opera and Sovereignty is an outstanding example of the difference that scholarship in the humanities can make to the art of music when so convincingly allied with it."

Opera and Sovereignty explores the relationship between opera seria, an Italian form of opera that dominated the European stage in the 18th century, and political change in Europe.

"My goal was to explore how opera seria both projected and threatened absolute rule," Feldman said. "That meant figuring out how to say something cogent about the function of repertories and operatic events that were highly varied across time and space; and ultimately figuring out how to give some form to a very complex set of institutions, social distinctions and political problems."

To tackle a genre as widespread and prolific as opera seria created "an immense formal problem," Feldman said. She culled through the voluminous repertory and archival material, building her argument around four specific events.

Critics have praised the result as a "dazzling investigation" and "superbly researched and brilliantly argued." "[Opera and Sovereignty] will dominate our understanding of opera seria in 18th-century Italy for the foreseeable future," Geoffrey Burgess wrote in Current Musicology.

"I was utterly stunned, thrilled and shamelessly ecstatic," Feldman said of learning she had received the Laing Prize. "To be honored by one's own colleagues and one's own institution, particularly one as rigorous and authentic as this one, is a delight like no other."

-Susie Allen