Karl Friedrich Schinkel, The Queen of the Night

Music, Art, and Ideology: an Introduction to Opera

Instructor: Nathan Shields
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

How can music—seemingly the most abstract of the arts—embody the concrete passions and narrative action of theatrical drama? This is the fundamental question underlying the history of opera, from its aristocratic 17th-century origins to its 19th-century popular heyday to its uncertain present. In this course, we will explore a few of the innumerable ways in which the question of opera—of its form, content, purpose, and social and political significance—has been answered, beginning with Monteverdi’s genre-defining l’Orfeo, continuing with operas by Mozart, Wagner, and Verdi, and concluding with a consideration of their modern successors. Alongside our listening, we will read essays on opera by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Thomas Mann, Bernard Williams, and others.

We will consider both the why and the how of these operas—both the political and metaphysical ideals that shaped them, from revolution to nationalism, humanism to nihilism—as well as the artistic alchemy by which these ideals were embodied and transformed into a unity of dramatic action and musical affect. And through our study of these particular works, we will try, in turn, to come to an understanding of opera as a whole—that paradoxical, protean genre, a precarious synthesis of elite art and popular culture, in which arcane convention sits side by side with music of breathtaking intimacy, and the quotidian passions of private life unfold against the grand, impersonal backdrop of myth and history.

Course Schedule

Monday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
March 01 — March 22, 2021
4 weeks


Registration Open

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