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Gender in Opera. The Construction of Femininity in 19th Century Opera

The event took place in the summer semester 2016.


  • Verena Bruchhagen, Institute of Sociology (Faculty of Education, Psychology and Sociology)
  • Prof. Holger Noltze, Professorship for Music and Media/Music Journalism (Faculty of Arts and Sport Sciences)


The 19th century dreams of redemption, especially in opera. The path to this regularly leads "only over her dead body" (Elisabeth Bronfen). The seminar examines, in a musical-sociological double perspective, the story of the woman in opera, told again and again and always somewhat differently: as a songbird, as a love-suffering subject, as a seductress as well as a fatal object of desire. Cases" between the flowering of Italian bel canto and Wagner's Kundry, who corresponded to the contemporary image of a "hysteric" and who has only one word to sing in the third act of "Parsifal": "serve", are examined. The ideology of the bourgeoisie with its "education in femininity" underpinned corresponding role expectations and relationship constellations. To this day, these gender-ideological constructs prove to be tenacious patterns of private and public gender stagings.

In the seminar, prominent female opera figures are discussed and elaborated on the basis of sociological gender theories under the guiding question of the extent to which musical theatre in particular contributed to the constructions of the feminine in the 19th century.

Open to students of sociology and musicology.