- Prima donna
Originally used in
operacompanies, "prima donna" is Italian for "first lady". The term was used to designate the leading female singerin the opera company, the person to whom the prime roles would be given. The prima donna was normally, but not necessarily, a soprano. The corresponding term for the male lead (almost always a tenor) is "primo uomo". [H. Rosenthal, H. and J. Warrack, "The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera", 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 1979. p. 398. ISBN 019311321X]
Legendarily, these "prima donnas" (prime donne in Italian) were often regarded as egotistical, unreasonable and irritable, with a rather high
opinionof themselves not shared by others. Although whether they are truly more vain or more hot-tempered than other singers (or than any other people in the opera houses) is not substantiated, the term often signifies a vain, obnoxious and temperamental person who, although irritating, cannot be done without. [Susan Rutherford, [http://books.google.com/books?id=s1j6Jl2LOfgC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Prima+donna&lr=&sig=A68hBbMrp3tzzAT70dvP8RIoJ2s#PRA1-PA44,M1 "The Prima Donna and Opera, 1815-1930"] , Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 052185167X ]
Famous prima donnas have often caused opera enthusiasts to divide into opposing "clubs" supporting one singer over another. The rivalry between the respective fans of
Maria Callasand Renata Tebaldi, for example, was one of the most famous of all opera, despite the friendship of the two singers. [See for example, George Jellinek, [http://books.google.com/books?id=AARY5QG7U3EC&printsec=frontcover#PPA96,M1 "Callas: Portrait of a Prima Donna"] , Dover, 1986, p. 96 and "passim". ISBN 0486250474] In recent times the term prima donna has almost become a synonym of " diva" and is used to designate popular female opera singers, especially sopranos.
*Rupert Christiansen, "Prima Donna: A History", Viking, 1985. ISBN 0670804827
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