Back to index
Matsumoto, Naomi

The Origins of the Operatic Mad Scene and its Early Development up to c1700

Ph.D. Goldsmiths College, University of London, 2005

This thesis investigates the origins of the operatic mad scene, its development up to c1700, and questions of its definition and meaning. Chapters 1 and 2 trace the traditions behind musico-theatrical portrayals of insanity from ancient times through to the Renaissance, and in Chapter 3 seventeenth-century Italian examples of "mad" operas are codified and examined. Chapters 4-6 discuss the dissemination of the "mad" opera through France, England, Spain, Germany and Austria, and the relevant indigenous musical and theatrical conventions of each country are discussed.

Having reconstructed the surviving repertory, in Chapters 7 and 8, the textual, prosodic, behavioural and musical topoi used in association with such works are examined. The difficulties of attempting to establish purely musical signifiers for operatic insanity are demonstrated, and other means of approaching a definition are suggested. In Chapter 8, the forms and uses of aria, recitative, recitative soliloquy and arioso are analysed, and their contributions to the musical characterisation of the insane explored. In Chapter 9 the insights already gained are brought together in a case study of Iro from Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria.

The final chapter attempts to construct a typology of madness in seventeenth-century opera based partly on literary criteria. It theorises the notion of fictive truth as a contract between the audience, the composer and librettist, and the protagonist on the stage. Next, the functions of mad characters within the plots are analysed in relation to the distinctive dramaturgical effects achieved by "fictive personalities". "roles" and "character-types". Finally, there is an attempt to locate our understanding of madness in opera within wider critical horizons, and to explain the cultural work that mad scenes do for us, as we listen to examples from the historically situated traditions of opera.