The operatic women tell stories about the Republic of Venice. They also describe a story about the genre itself and the unexpected role of Venice in the emergence of a female rhetoric both on and off the stage. Under the effect of today's gender politics, it is all too easy to be distracted by the ostensibly misogynist discourses that underlie so many early modern works, and to fail to recognize the extent to which seventeenth-century opera explored and even celebrated women and femininity. Scientific discoveries about sexual difference changed popular notions about the importance of female pleasure. Venus had always stood so defiantly for Venice's most beloved virtues and vices. She was the alluring female body that housed the masculine soul of the Venetian Republic, and was both extolled and condemned in painting, poetry, prose, and song. She was also an operatic heroine in her own right.
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