Voice and the sleepwalking body

Michal Grover-Friedlander*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the relation between body and voice in the performance of a contemporary opera, Ficarra and Whittington's The Empress's Feet, based on a Chinese tale relating the origin of the practice of foot binding. The tale relates the ancient practice to cure a queen from bouts of sleepwalking that afflicted her. I initially explore the opera's complex formal structure, its central themes and the way it transforms the original tale. I will then develop some of the significant aspects, imaginary as well as factual, of both the practice of foot binding and the phenomenon of sleepwalking. I suggest that the opera not only relates itself thematically to the tale and through it to the practice of foot binding, but also suggests a further parallel between foot binding and a form of bodily mutilation that is associated with the development of the medium of opera in the West, namely the phenomenon of the castrato. The threefold consideration of foot binding, sleepwalking and the voice of the castrato will serve to reveal a moment of liberation, at the heart of the opera - call it the agency or voice given to the feet 'unbound'. I will conclude with an account of a production of The Empress's Feet which I directed in 2014, based on the interpretation suggested in this article.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)128-147
Number of pages20
JournalTheatre Research International
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 2021


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