Rudolph Cronau's drawing of Wagner's opera house, Bayreuth, flanked by his birthplace (left) and place of death.

Opera in the Age of Totalitarianism

Instructor: Nathan Shields
Unnameable Books
600 Vanderbilt Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11238

Opera—in which kings and queens, gods and heroes bare their souls in song—is more intimately concerned than any other artistic genre with the connection between private passion and political destiny, between the fate of the individual and that of the state. In the early twentieth century, as political life became increasingly mechanized and totalitarian regimes extended their grasp into every facet of private life, no subject seemed more urgently in need of addressing. In this course we will examine the composers, like Alban Berg with Wozzeck, Luigi Dallapiccola with Il Prigionero, and Bernd Alois Zimmermann with Die Soldaten, who used opera as a lens through which to look into the heart of totalitarianism, as well as those—like Dmitri Shostakovich, whose opera Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was denounced in print by Stalin himself—who found it staring unblinkingly back. We will investigate how these composers used their music to wrest sense from the new world in which they found themselves, capturing in sound the experience of freedom and servitude, subjectivity and dehumanization. Through consideration of their works and lives, we will explore fundamental questions about the relationship between art, society, and the modern state, and about the role and responsibilities of the artist—a century ago, and today.

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm
October 27 — November 17, 2015
4 weeks

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