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‘Operatic performances two hundred miles in the Australian bush’: Staging rural identity, the case of madame Fannie Simonsen in Wagga Wagga, 1866
journal contributionposted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Nicole AnaeNicole Anae
Iinvestigates the social and cultural discourses that informed journalistic commentary placing the central figure of performer as a key to defining Australian rural identity in the nineteenth century. The publicity about performance generally, and about French-born prima donna Fannie Simonsen (1835 – 1896) particularly, one of the first female opera stars of international repute to perform in the Riverina district of New South Wales, suggests a heightening awareness of rural identity in the period. It involved, to some degree, not only the recognition of the cultural influence of performers as ‘pioneers,’ but also the construction of a loose consensus of what constituted the identity of rural pioneers. Simonsen’s appearances in Wagga Wagga in 1866 occurred almost a decade after the establishment of both amateur and semi-amateur theatre in the Riverina district and elsewhere. Accounts such as those reporting on Simonsen’s appearances in Wagga Wagga defined rural audiences primarily by what they were not: metropolitan. Situating these accounts within the context of the Riverina’s emergent theatre culture reveals the existence of a distinct tension between understanding the ‘pioneer’ as a rural identity responsible for geographic ‘taming,’ and the nineteenth century media narrative of the pioneer as something more: an importer of material artefacts and an agent of enculturation in rural communities.