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Opera and spirituality

By Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe


Research into opera audiences has taken up a predominance of emotion in opera lovers’ responses to opera, in particular, and music in general (including opera). For the field of music psychology, there has been increased interest in strong emotions in relation to music, physically manifested as, for example, chills, shivers down or up the spine, or an increase of the heart rate. Spiritual experiences feature among the range of strong emotions thus identified. It is on those that I focus in this article. Not only opera audiences report spiritual experiences: opera singers do so as well. Some contextual frameworks have been developed to explain such spiritual experiences, predominantly for audiences, but they are also relevant for singers. While the libretto is in many cases not likely to support the onset and development of spiritual experiences, some opera librettos might be argued to provide such support. In this article, I discuss spiritual experiences reported by singers and review the literature on spiritual experiences reported by audience members in relation to opera, proposing, along the way, relevant additions to the clarification of terminology for, and the explanation of, such experiences. Finally I add a section on the importance of mise-en-scène in relation to the potential of a libretto to induce and maintain spiritual experiences in opera

Topics: W440 Theatre studies, W300 Music
Publisher: Institute for the Study of Performance and Spirituality (ISPS), City University of New York (CUNY)
Year: 2011
OAI identifier:

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