Operatic Workings of the Mind

Operatic Workings of the Mind: Representations of Consciousness in Eighteenth-Century Opera

20-21 September 2018

Faculty of Music, University of Oxford

Convenor: Professor Suzanne Aspden

When we assess the merit of an opera, the level of psychological insight it offers is usually a prime criterion. And yet opera historians and musicologists generally fail to recognise the historical and cultural contingency of that concept: ‘psychology’ as a discipline only emerged in the late nineteenth century, while common use of the term only began in the mid eighteenth century. Indeed, eighteenth-century discussions around the notion of the ‘self’ (from Descartes to Locke to Diderot and Rousseau to Hume) indicate the growth of interest in (and theorisation of) concepts of ‘self’ and ‘consciousness’ in the period. It is well known that this new interest in the self influenced developments in the novel, poetry and spoken drama, but its impact on sung drama has not previously been considered, except in highly general or fleeting terms.

Following on from last year’s successful conference, Representing Interiority in Eighteenth-Century Opera, this conference will return to the question: How did the representation of interiority develop in eighteenth-century opera’s libretti and music, across different genres and approaches?