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Originally used in opera companies, "prima donna" is Italian for "first lady". The term was used to designate the leading female singer in 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".[1]

Legendarily, these "prima donnas" (prime donne in Italian) were often regarded as egotistical, unreasonable and irritable, with a rather high opinion of 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 describes a vain, obnoxious and temperamental person who, although irritating, cannot be done without.[2]

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 Callas and Renata Tebaldi, for example, was one of the most famous of all opera, despite the friendship of the two singers.[3]

Today, the term has been adapted to sport culture. It is used as a pejorative moniker for star professional athletes who are seen as pampered, spoiled and/or selfish at the expense of team work.

References

  1. ^ H. Rosenthal, H. and J. Warrack, The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Opera, 2nd Edition, Oxford University Press, 1979. p. 398. ISBN 019311321X
  2. ^ Susan Rutherford, The Prima Donna and Opera, 1815-1930, Cambridge University Press, 2006. ISBN 052185167X
  3. ^ See for example, George Jellinek, Callas: Portrait of a Prima Donna, Dover, 1986, p. 96 and passim. ISBN 0486250474

Further Reading








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