GER40080 German literature and 19th-/20th-century opera: Translation/transformation from page to opera stage

Academic Year 2021/2022

In 1779 Samuel Johnson famously termed opera as that "exotik and irrational entertainment". Opera today is, however, appreciated by a much wider audience. This is due not least to translation - either with the help of running surtitles during a live performance, subtitles on a DVD, or experiencing a live performance in translation. However, the writing of an opera itself constitutes a form of translation, as setting the words to music is an act of musico-poetic intersemiosis. Where the opera libretto is derived from a pre-existent literary work, the opera composition constitutes a dual translation. Such operas play an important role in the reception history of literary works.
This module looks at a selection of well-known 19th- and 20th-century operas by mainstream composers, along with their literary sources, and draws on the relevant writings of translation theorists and librettologists in order to appreciate the transformational process. The focus will be mainly on German sources and operas, but the primary sources and libretti will be available in translation. It is not necessary to be able to read music or to have prior exposure to opera in order to take this module.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

On successful completion of this module, students should be able to:
- appreciate opera as an intermedial art form;
- view opera as an important historical, social and cultural contribution to a nation;
- reflect on the translation and transformation processes involved in adapting a literary work for the opera house;
- interpret opera using theories of translation, adaptation and librettology;
- engage critically with the appropriate works in the theoretical and secondary literature;
- express critical opinions (orally and in writing) in an appropriate register and style.

Indicative Module Content:

We will look at 4 well-known operas, whose libretti are adaptations of seminal German literary works, including the Grimms' tale 'Hänsel und Gretel' and Goethe's masterpiece 'Faust. Der Tragödie erster Teil'. In addition to looking at the process of translation and transfer from literature to libretto, we will also look at contrasting productions and consider issues of performance.

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours
Seminar (or Webinar)


Specified Learning Activities


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Before embarking on a new work, a lecture will give a general overview, but the majority of the module follows a workshop approach involving class discussions, task-based group activities, and individual and group presentations. Theoretical texts dealing with adaptation and translation will be studied alongside the primary works and respective productions. 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations
Learning Requirements:

Very good reading and comprehension skills in another language (ideally, but not necessarily German) up to B2/C1 of the Common European Framework of Reference.

Learning Recommendations:

BA (Hons) in German or equivalent.

An interest in music, theatre/performing arts, very good reading skills in another European language (ideally, but not necessarily, German), ability to deal with texts analytically. It is not necessary to have an ability to read music or have any prior knowledge of/exposure to opera.

Module Requisites and Incompatibles
Not applicable to this module.
Assessment Strategy  
Description Timing Open Book Exam Component Scale Must Pass Component % of Final Grade
Essay: Essay of ca. 4,500-5,000 words Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Presentation: Oral presentation in class Varies over the Trimester n/a Graded No


Carry forward of passed components
Resit In Terminal Exam
Spring No
Please see Student Jargon Buster for more information about remediation types and timing. 
Feedback Strategy/Strategies

• Feedback individually to students, on an activity or draft prior to summative assessment
• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment
• Peer review activities
• Self-assessment activities

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Drafts or outlines of the presentation and essay may be submitted in advance for comment prior to the submission of the summative assessment. Self-assessment criteria will be drawn up in conjunction with students beforehand, and class presentations will be peer-reviewed.

Available from the coordinator on request -- includes list of primary works and DVD recordings, secondary and theoretical works
Timetabling information is displayed only for guidance purposes, relates to the current Academic Year only and is subject to change.
Seminar Offering 1 Week(s) - 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 Mon 14:00 - 15:50