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Laura Protano-Biggs


Laura Protano-Biggs joined the musicology faculty of the Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University in Fall 2015. Prior to her arrival she was awarded a PhD in historical musicology from the University of California, Berkeley (2014) and held an appointment as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Nottingham (2014-15).

Protano-Biggs is currently at work on a book about the material dimensions of operatic experience, entitled Operatic Technologies in Late Nineteenth-Century Italy. Rather than focus on mechanisms which enchanted their audience, such as those used in works written for institutions like the Paris Opéra or the Bayreuth Festspielhaus, her book considers technologies in a more basic sense—as devices used to achieve an end—and in relation to musical works that do not summon to mind sublime moments reliant on mechanical feats. The book demonstrates that when we examine common material mechanisms as a cluster in late 1800s Italian theater, we start to grasp the fundamental conventions that influenced performance culture and even to understand the hold those conventions have over us today. Accordingly, individual chapters in Operatic Technologies deal with such matters as the baton, theater illumination and new treatment of voice as mechanism. The book focuses in particular on the case of the preeminent Teatro alla Scala in Milan, whose performance traditions would assume increasing international importance across the early decades of the twentieth century.

In 2014 Protano-Biggs and Sarah Hibberd convened a conference on the theme of Grand Opera on the Move at King’s College London. As the conference sought to explore, grand opera has overwhelmingly been associated with the technical and aesthetic agendas of the Paris Opéra, but this repertoire also did substantial work for other institutions and audiences across the nineteenth century. Articles based on the conference will appear in a March 2017 special issue of Cambridge Opera Journal, which she is guest editing.

Protano-Biggs has presented her research at forums including the annual conferences of the American Musicological Society, Royal Musical Association and California Interdisciplinary Consortium of Italian Studies.

She initially trained as a flautist under the tutelage of Raffaele Trevisani in Milan.

Courses taught

Verdi and his Contemporaries (Fall 2015); Music History Colloquium (Fall 2016); Technologies in the Concert Hall and Opera House from the Enlightenment to the Present Day (Fall 2015 and Spring 2016); Music History 4: Music in the 20th Century (Spring 2016).

Selected Publications

Edited Volumes

“Nineteenth-Century Grand Opera on the Move,” special issue guest-edited for Cambridge Opera Journal, forthcoming March 2017.

Journal Articles and Reviews

Forthcoming, “Alessandra Campana, Opera and Modern Spectatorship in Late Nineteenth-Century Italy and Karen Henson, Opera Acts: Singers and Performance in the Late Nineteenth Century: Review,” Music & Letters.

“An Earnest Meyerbeer: Le Prophète at London’s Royal Italian Opera, 1849,” Cambridge Opera Journal, forthcoming March 2017.

“Bellini's Gothic Voices,” Cambridge Opera Journal  28/2 (2016), 149-154.

“‘Mille e mille calme fiammelle: Illuminating Milan’s Teatro alla Scala at the fine secolo,” Studi verdiani 23 (2013), 145-167.

“Garibaldi,” “Cavour,” “Mazzini,” “Maria Luigia” and “VIVA V.E.R.D.I,” in Montemorra Marvin ed., The Cambridge Verdi Encyclopedia (Cambridge University Press, 2013).

“Manon’s Choice,” The Opera Quarterly 24/1 (2008), 27-35.



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