Representing Interiority in Eighteenth-Century Opera

Representing Interiority in Eighteenth-Century Opera

11-12 September 2017

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 we 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; instead, musicologists have been largely content to apply anachronistic and broad-brush ‘psychological’ analyses to opera of the period, without taking into account historical changes in conceptualisation of the self.

This conference will aim to address two questions: How did the representation of interiority develop in eighteenth-century opera’s libretti and music? And were there different developmental paths for different genres or regions in the period?

To develop an answer to these questions, the conference invites paper proposals from scholars in the history of ideas as well as from music psychologists and opera historians. The combined expertise of opera historians, historians of ideas and music psychologists will, it is anticipated, facilitate a systematic interdisciplinary consideration of the ways in which opera’s structures and practices manifest contemporaneous thought on identity, the self and interiority.

Please send proposals of no more than 400 words to:

Proposals should include: title, author name and title, affiliation, email address, and any AV requirements.

Deadline for receipt of proposals: Monday 15 May 2017.

Notification of acceptance will be by 1 June.


NB: Papers will be pre-circulated in August 2017, and publication of a volume of essays arising from the conference is anticipated.

Speakers include:

Rebekah Ahrendt (Yale)

Miranda Anderson (Edinburgh)

Suzanne Aspden (Oxford)

Olivia Bloechl (UCLA)

Stefano Castelvecchi (Cambridge)

Eric Clarke (Oxford)

Alistair Isaac (Edinburgh)

Kordula Knaus (Bayreuth)

Ellen Lockhart (Toronto)

Michael Spitzer (Liverpool)