As the first death by tuberculosis on the operatic stage, Violetta’s death in Verdi’s La traviata (1853) raises questions about the origins of tubercular singing and how early audiences made sense of it. This essay finds answers to these questions in the medical, musical, and fictional literature of the day, starting with the 1826 edition of René Laënnec’s treatise on diagnostic pathology via the stethoscope. In this work, Laënnec documents “songs” coming from the carotid artery of female patients in the advanced stages of their disease and suffering from nervous agitation—songs Laënnec transcribes in musical notation.

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