Encompass The Evolution of Madness: the Portrayal of Insanity in Opera

Courtney Miller
unpublished
1 There have always been certain themes that have persistently fascinated people over the centuries when it comes to art and entertainment. Ideas like love, death, and insanity have been used in nearly every single culture and time period to allow audiences the opportunity to experience without personally enduring them. Insanity has especially been an undeniably enthralling subject owing to its alien status in real life. As an art form, opera in particular has elevated insanity into a dramatic
more » ... ty into a dramatic constant by using it over and over. That being said, the exact portrayal of operatic madness has distinctly changed over the centuries. In fact, there have been four notable shifts that can be connected to specific periods of time: the Early Modern (before the 18 th century), Bel Canto (18 th to mid-19 th century), Romantic (19 th century), and lastly the current Modern period, beginning with the 20 th century. There are several possible reasons for the change, but one in particular that could be considered at least indirectly responsible is the development of psychology. The field of psychology as it is viewed in modern times only began to form during the start of the 19 th century, but as the major ideas about real-life insanity evolved, so did opera's use of madness. As the understanding of madness changed, the operatic depiction also reformed in accordance with new public expectations of what madness was supposed to look like, even to the point of selectively assigning it to a specific gender. It is important to recognize how insanity was thought of in order to understand the cultural 3
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