Spinal Deformities in Romantic Operas


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Abstract

The librettos of several of the most famous Romantic operas contain references to disease. These operas can serve as valuable sources of information regarding how spinal deformities were understood during the nineteenth century by physicians and lay persons alike. Original librettos of the operas “Rigoletto” (1851) by Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) and “La Esmeralda” (1836) by Louise Bertin (1805–1877) were analyzed. In both operas, spinal deformities of Rigoletto and Quasimodo are a central issue. In detail, Quasimodo could suffer from von Recklinghausen's neurofibromatosis, while Rigoletto could be affected by severe adolescent idiopathic scoliosis. The plays are an expression of the nineteenth century attitude toward deformity: the hunchbacks are ridiculed and excluded from the society due to their deformity. Thus, they are forced by society to act as ugly and evil beings. Although both Rigoletto and Quasimodo show an intense love, at the end of each opera, they are defeated by loss of this love. This is an evident sign that, despite its willingness to tackle the subject, nineteenth-century society was not still ready to attribute success or human value to people affected by disabilities.Level of Evidence: 5

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