Three Loves for Three Oranges: Gozzi, Meyerhold, Prokofiev

Indiana University Press, 2021.

In 1921, Sergei Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges—one of the earliest, most famous examples of modernist opera—premiered in Chicago. Prokofiev’s source was a 1913 theatrical divertissement by Vsevolod Meyerhold, who, in turn, took inspiration from Carlo Gozzi’s 1761 commedia dell’arte–infused theatrical fairy tale. Only by examining these whimsical, provocative works together can we understand the full significance of their intertwined lineage.

With contributions from 17 distinguished scholars in theater, art history, Italian, Slavic studies, and musicology, Three Loves for Three Oranges: Gozzi, Meyerhold, Prokofiev illuminates the historical development of Modernism in the arts, the ways in which commedia dell’arte’s self-referential and improvisatory elements have inspired theater and music innovations, and how polemical playfulness informs creation.

A resource for scholars and theater lovers alike, this collection of essays, paired with new translations of Love for Three Oranges, charts the transformations and transpositions that this fantastical tale underwent to provoke theatrical revolutions that still reverberate today.

“Sophie Tucker, Racial Hybridity and Interracial Relations in American Vaudeville”

Theatre Research International 44 (July 2019): 153–70.

This article discusses Sophie Tucker’s racialized performance in the context of early twentieth-century American vaudeville and black–Jewish interracial relations. Tucker’s vaudeville musical acts involved mixed racial referents: ‘black-style’ music and dance, Jewish themes, Yiddish language and the collaboration of both African American and Jewish artists. I show how these racial combinations were a studied tactic to succeed in white vaudeville, a corporate entertainment industry that capitalized on racialized images and fast changes in characters. From historical records, it is clear that Tucker’s black signifiers also fostered connections with the African American artists who inspired her work or were employed by her. How these interracial relations contended with Tucker’s brand of racialized performance is the focus of the latter part of the article. Here I analyze Tucker’s autobiography as a performative act, in order to reveal a reparative effort toward some of her exploitative approaches to black labor and creativity.

This dissertation investigates racial and ethnic impersonations in American popular entertainment, especially vaudeville, between the 1870s and the 1920s. I focus my analyses on first-generation Irish, Chinese, and Jewish Eastern European artists and their American-born children during a time when the United States had absorbed the highest number of immigrants from the most varied ethnic, national, and cultural backgrounds since the country’s foundation. While racial impersonation often reiterated stereotypical and derogatory representations, I highlight immigrant artists’ awareness of its power to reshape identity politics. I argue that due to racial impersonation’s potent impact on audiences, immigrant artists deployed it as a tool to challenge fixed conceptions of racial subjectivities, race relations, and belonging to the national ethos.

Immigrant performances, more effectively than racial impersonations by white, Protestant, American-born artists, highlight a tension between the validation of ethnic origins—interpolating between authentic and stereotypical depictions—and their rejection. Such a tension suggests that the pathway towards “Americanization” encompasses sudden sprints, false starts, and missteps. Thus, American immigration history should not be framed as a progressive narrative concluding with the assimilation of the foreign, but rather a complex process of negotiation that requires the performance of race to assert or contest self-identified or externally assigned racial identities.

Whereas racial impersonation has already received the attention of scholars in theatre and performance studies, critical race theory, and cultural studies, this study goes beyond stage representations to focus on the particular immigrant experiences motivating or affecting them. I ask, what role did immigrant experiences play in the creation and evolution of theatrical racial representation in the United States? What do immigrant racial impersonations tell us about contemporaneous ideas of race, civic relations, and national belonging? Lastly, how did immigrant racial impersonations impact the way audiences came to understand race?