On “Diegesis” and “Diegetic”: Words and Concepts

Change log
Castelvecchi, Stefano 

In Act II scene 2 of Le nozze di Figaro, Susanna urges Cherubino to sing for the Countess a song he has composed himself. Cherubino’s hesitant response is shrugged off by Susanna (“manco parole”—“enough with talk”), who proceeds to accompany his performance of “Voi che sapete” on the Countess’s guitar. Following the performance, the Countess comments, “Bravo! che bella voce!” (“Bravo! what a beautiful voice!”). Needless to say, the actors on the stage sing throughout this scene—as they do virtually all the time in Italian opera (and in several other varieties of opera). But anyone familiar with the conventions of opera will have it quite clear that a) no character in the story is singing from the beginning of the scene up to “manco parole” (they are, rather, speaking to each other); b) Cherubino does sing during his song; and c) from “Bravo!” onward, all characters resume speaking. Put differently (and perhaps better), it is clear that the characters here do not hear any music until Susanna starts playing the song’s “ritornello” on the guitar, and again will not hear any music from “Bravo!” through the remainder of scene 2 (which includes Susanna’s aria “Venite, inginocchiatevi,” whose words represent what the characters hear as speech).

diegesis/mimesis, diegeticmusic, opera, narratology, film studies, Genette
Journal Title
Journal of the American Musicological Society
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University of California Press
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