Universität KonstanzExzellenzcluster: Kulturelle Grundlagen von Integration

Oper und Festspiele als Medien politischer Repräsentation, 1890-1930

Stephanie Kleiner


The famous Brussels performance of Daniel-Francois-Esprit Aubers opera La Muette de Portici on the 25th of August 1830 often comes to mind if one thinks of the political dimensions of 19th century opera. This performance supposedly triggered the Belgian Revolution and finally led to the country’s independence. Apart from this spectacular case cultural studies have recently begun to investigate the political aspects of opera on a broader scale. As performative acts and part of a social practice, opera performances not only mirror collective norms and images of order, but help to create and visualize them.

The dissertation project takes into account the conceptual implications of a “new political history” and defines opera and musical festivals as part of a symbolic framework that helped to establish and define the scope as well as the limitations of the political sphere. By looking at a couple of contrasting, yet interwoven case studies the dissertation projects aims to show that opera performances could serve as a medium of political communication: Not only could they help to strengthen the existing political order by celebrating the splendour and glory of a king, a nation or of a political / military leader, but they could also jeopardize, even deconstruct the political status quo by envisioning alternative images of order and grandeur. Therefore, the dissertation project is not only concerned with the institutional and financial aspects of opera as a business, but takes a closer look at specific performances and their reception by selected audiences as well as the press. Along these lines, the dissertation tries to highlight opera, the prototypical embodiment of high culture, as a resource of political integration.

In order to focus on the political culture of two cities (Wiesbaden and Frankfurt/Main), the dissertation project investigates anniversaries, state visits and national commemoration ceremonies and celebrations, which transcended the everyday-life of local politics. By symbolically creating specific images of community and order, these celebrations helped to interpret collective experiences and to articulate shared values and beliefs. Quite often, splendid and extravagant opera performances served as an integral part of these festivities and didn’t fail to impress their audience by evoking magnificent pomp onstage as well as offstage. This way, they prompted an atmosphere of heightened emotional involvement and could function as aesthetic representations of political order.