FYS 131 Opera: The Book and the Music (Saints and Spitfires)

Robert Hosmer, MW 1:10 PM-2:30 PM

 This seminar will focus on three literary texts – Shakespeare’s Othello, Prevost’s Manon Lescaut, and Merimee’s Carmen – and their “translations” into opera – Verdi’s Otello, Puccini’s Manon Lescaut, and Bizet’s Carmen.  We will study them in this sequence, first reading the literary text, then investigating the opera libretto before setting the two texts side-by-side to consider differences.  Before listening to each opera (and seeing a video as well), we will examine the libretto, noting what the composer and librettist have done to the source and speculating about why and to what effect.  Both texts, the literary and the operatic, will provide opportunities to consider issues of race and gender, cultural construction and imposition of identities, and politics of various stripes.  I have a particular interest in the construction of female identities in these texts, so I have chosen three works which give us radically different women – the saintly Desdemona, a “maiden never bold”; Manon, the young coquette who bargains for more than she realizes; and Carmen, the feisty spitfire who gets what she wants, but at a terrible price. Fundamental to our work will be coming to understand that any production of a literary text – whether on stage, in film, or in opera – is an argument advanced by the director; Franco Zeffirelli’s film version of “Otello” should make that abundantly clear.

This is a seminar focused on literary and cultural, not musical, concerns. No one needs special preparation in music theory or form.  For introductory musical matters, I hope that colleagues in the Dept. of Music might offer an introductory session on the development of opera and perhaps a listener’s guide as well.

Enrollment limited to 16 first-year students.