MUS31380 Baroque Opera Tropes

Academic Year 2021/2022

Like many forms of popular entertainment, opera in seventeenth-century Venice was heavily reliant on formulae, not unlike those catalogued and analysed by the popular website TV Tropes. Indeed, the genre has been called the Hollywood blockbuster, soap opera, and Broadway musical of its day, as well as a spiritual successor to the commedia dell arte of the Renaissance. From the lamenting queen to the sworn virgin to the comic servant, the final love duet to the mad scene and the incantation sequence, librettists and composers had a vast array of stock characters, plots, and scenes on which to draw, and which they could recombine and vary almost endlessly. Marking the thirty-year publication anniversary of Ellen Rosand’s "Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Creation of a Genre", this module considers the production and reception of stock roles and scenes in Venetian opera at different points throughout the seventeenth century, as well as their influence on music drama in other genres and countries. We will look at the theatricality of these conventions, the shared form and content of their text and music, and their development and dissemination, alongside implications for gender, sexuality, and politics. Drawing on critical theory, as well as reception studies, we will also discuss issues of narrative and dramatic convention more broadly, and the ways in which such conventions become codified, producing a ‘horizon of expectation’ through which artists can maximise audience engagement, either by fulfilling, thwarting, or over-fulfilling the audience’s predictions.

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Curricular information is subject to change

Learning Outcomes:

Students who successfully complete this module should be able to:
Show familiarity with a range of seventeenth-century operatic texts and music;
Recognise how Venetian opera developed and exported a codified set of conventional character- and scene-types over time;
Demonstrate an understanding of different theoretical approaches to these narrative conventions, including those related to gender, reception history, and formal analysis;
Appraise key concepts of narrative convention more generally.

Indicative Module Content:

Baroque opera, especially in Venice.
Reception history.
Narrative and narrative convention, especially in Baroque opera (and especially Venetian Baroque opera).
Interpretive close reading and listening (of/to music, text, and music-with-text).
Formal analysis (musical, textual, musico-textual).

Student Effort Hours: 
Student Effort Type Hours


Seminar (or Webinar)


Autonomous Student Learning




Approaches to Teaching and Learning:
Lectures (two hours per week).
Seminars (discussion workshops; one hour per week). 
Requirements, Exclusions and Recommendations

Not applicable to this module.

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: Final major essay (3,000 words) from a selection of topics. Coursework (End of Trimester) n/a Graded No


Group Project: Mid-course presentation in small groups following preparation during the trimester break. Week 8 n/a Graded No


Continuous Assessment: Contribution to class discussions, etc. Throughout the Trimester n/a Graded No


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

• Feedback individually to students, post-assessment

How will my Feedback be Delivered?

Not yet recorded.

Ellen Rosand, "Monteverdi’s Last Operas: A Venetian Trilogy"
Ellen Rosand, "Opera in Seventeenth-Century Venice: The Creation of a Genre"
John Walter Hill, "Baroque Music: Music in Western Europe, 1580–1750"

J. Peter Burkholder and Claude V. Palisca, "Norton Anthology of Western Music, Volume 1"
Richard Taruskin, "Oxford History of Western Music, Volumes 1 and 2"
Susan McClary, "Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music"
Tim Carter (editor), "Cambridge History of Seventeenth-Century Music"
Wendy Heller, "Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice"
Wendy Heller, "Music in the Baroque"