My research applies methods from musicology, analytic philosophy, and literary theory to the study of opera and musical theatre. Despite musicology’s increasing engagement with philosophy, the discipline remains disconnected from Anglophone philosophy, which is primarily in the analytic (as opposed to continental) tradition. My work constitutes a pioneering effort to bring musicology and analytic philosophy into a closer rapport.
In Storytelling in Opera and Musical Theater, I do not merely apply philosophical ideas to the study of opera but do philosophy, using operatic works and performances to refine and even challenge philosophical accounts of narrative, point of view, and the work-performance relationship. I examine the roles of narrators in sung drama, how music can orient spectators to characters’ points of view, how subjective access to characters may engender sympathy or empathy, and how the performers’ choices affect not only who is telling the story but what story is being told.
Another aim of my current research is a rehabilitation of the figure of the author (whether composer, librettist, or performer) in musicological discourse. In “Intentions in Theory and Practice” (Music & Letters 2018), I expose a conflict between theory and practice regarding the relevance of authorial intentions to interpretation. While musicology continues to be influenced by the “intentional fallacy” and “the death of the author,” other humanist disciplines have recognized that although Wimsatt, Beardsley, and Barthes have raised legitimate criticisms of forms of intentionalism that border on hagiography, a rejection of author-directed queries would be tantamount to a rejection of our commitment to humanist scholarship. Given that music is a social practice, it matters not only who is speaking but also what they intend to say. For musicologists interested in understanding musical works and performances as the products of human endeavour, I argue that moderate actual intentionalism, as defended by the philosopher Paisley Livingston, is the theory that best describes practices directed towards this aim.
My next book project asks Why do we speak of the operas of Mozart, Verdi, and Britten rather than those of Da Ponte, Piave, and Piper? What, precisely, is the nature of opera authorship and how should this be reflected in opera scholarship? I address these questions on two fronts. On the theoretical side, I subject the concepts of authorship and collaboration to closer scrutiny than they have hitherto received in opera studies by bringing the field into dialogue with work in the philosophy of cinema. On the practical side, I put these new theoretical understandings of opera authorship and collaboration into practice through a case study of Myfanwy Piper’s collaborations with Benjamin Britten and Alun Hoddinott.
I have also published on the American musical and film music. “Rethinking the Diegetic/Nondiegetic Distinction in the Film Musical” (Music and the Moving Image 2017) exposes problems with the use of the terms diegetic and nondiegetic in connection with film-musical numbers. As a replacement, I define two scalar concepts, one tracking the number’s level of realism, the other its degree of formality. I am also contributing a chapter to the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music on Korngold’s score to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935).
This research has been supported by