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Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationOxford Handbook of Western Music and Philosophy
EditorsTomas McAuley, Nanette Nielsen, Jerrold Levinson
Place of PublicationNew York
PublisherOxford University Press
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020

King's Authors


This chapter aims to combat common philosophical reservations against opera. It does so by investigating, through four case studies, opera's potential for gaining insight into subjectivity, understood as a way of living reflexively. My first case study shows that operatic heroes and heroines in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries rarely succeeded in self-determination and self-realisation against superior powers, often residing in themselves. My second case study demonstrates that Rousseau's and Diderot's advocacy for increasing operatic expressiveness left audiences very litte time for reflection, once Gluck, Piccinni and other composers put their advocacy into practice. My third case study reconstructs Wagner's endeavour to provide his operatic-political 'Gesamtkunstwerk' with metaphysical meaning and investigates its demolition by Nietzsche, who enthroned Bizet's 'Carmen' instead as a source of absolute knowledge about the emotional self. My fourth case study engages theories of emotion from analytic philosophy as they relate to opera. In conclusion I promote the cultural value of opera in a nearly valueless society, while arguing against Tomlinson's and Abbate's endowment of some canonical operas with metaphysical importance.

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