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History Of Opera


Before I was a director/librettist/marketer, I was a history student. As I already loved opera and theatre, I researched opera wherever I could. This has allowed me to get a reasonable understanding of most major composers’ historical and philosophical contexts, but I’ve done more specific research on Mozart, Verdi and Puccini, which I enjoy using in my creative work.

I started by studying Verdi under Professor Axel Körner, who taught me about reception studies. Using Verdi as an example, Axel taught how to use contemporary sources to show how works of art were seen at the time, cutting through received myths. With Verdi, this approach shows how he wasn’t the revolutionary people often believe.

I used the technique to research Mozart and the Enlightenment. There’s often an uncritical acceptance of the idea that Mozart’s operas are the musical expression of Enlightenment values. Looking at how people responded to Mozart at the time, it is clear that only a small part of his audience engaged with the Enlightenment and its philosophy; most of his audience enjoyed his operas for the spectacle they offered. It looks like Mozart was either a terrible messenger of the Enlightenment, or not trying to give an Enlightened message.

My final undergraduate dissertation was on Puccini, focusing on La Fanciulla del West. I wanted to know why people liked the play, but not the opera. In short, it looks like people didn’t like Puccini’s attempts to make the opera ‘realistic’ - its original audience didn’t accept the combination of ‘verisimilar realism’ in the staging and ‘psychologically realistic’ sung emotions. I enjoyed this research, which helped me develop my ideas about different types of realism in opera.

I’ve dabbled in the cultural history of the 19th century, the fin-de-siecle, and post-1945 music history, as well as the history of philosophy with particular interest in political, aesthetic, and ethical philosophy.

I like to think this research has given me a head-start on pre-production work for a lot of major composers’ work. At the very least, it’s given me useful pre-production research skills. And some good stories from Mozart’s private letters.

"Well argued... like its subject, manages to amuse its audience..."

- Dissertation marker's comments

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