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PhD studentship – Religion and ‘the Church’ on the Nineteenth-Century Stage

Oxford Brookes University

150th Anniversary PhD Scholarship


Edgar Degas, The Ballet from Robert le Diable, 1871

OBERTO are very pleased to offer a three year full-time PhD scholarship to a new student commencing in January 2015. The successful applicant will receive an annual bursary of £7,000 for three years (with no inflation increase), and fees will be paid by the University. The candidate will need to demonstrate that in addition to the scholarship other funding is available for them to successfully complete the programme in full-time study.

The successful candidate will work within the School of Arts under the supervision of Dr Barbara Eichner.

Topic of research: Religion and ‘the Church’ on the Nineteenth-Century Stage

This project will investigate the manifold ways in which religion, spirituality and ‘the Church’ were represented on the nineteenth-century (operatic) stage. The ‘long’ nineteenth century is often characterised as an era of secularism, rationalism and materialism. Despite this – or perhaps as a counter-reaction to it – religion, rituals and mysticism continued to fascinate composers, librettists and singers. The nineteenth-century stage offers particularly rich pickings in this area, from the use of chorales as musical markers of historical distance to the salacious nuns’ ballet in Giacomo Meyerbeer’s Robert le diable.

This project will allow the recipient of the doctoral award to investigate the representation of religion on the nineteenth-century stage from a number of angles, such as (but not restricted to):

  • musical historicism and the sounds of religious music
  • religious roles and voice types, from the ethereal nun to the evil cardinal
  • influences from other genres, such as oratorio, cantata or liturgical music
  • church criticism, parody, blasphemy and censorship
  • staging religious rites
  • contemporary church politics
  • encounters with non-Christian religions and atheism

The scope of the project is not limited to a particular national ‘school’ or geographic area; it will build on the prior knowledge and interests of the recipient of the scholarship. However, a comparative approach is strongly encouraged, and at least one of the major traditions (Italian, German, or French) should be included.

The recipient of the scholarship will be part of the thriving research culture of OBERTO. All our staff and PhD students are working on topics that concern opera’s relationship to broader cultural debates and questions of identity during the long nineteenth century. The recipient of the scholarship would be encouraged to take a pro-active role within the research unit, and to communicate their research findings to wider audiences.

Further information about the OBERTO research unit can be found at www.obertobrookes.com.

For information about the prospective supervisor, Dr Barbara Eichner, consult her profile on http://oxfordbrookes.academia.edu/BarbaraEichner. Informal inquiries to barbara.eichner@brookes.ac.uk are welcome.

If you would like to apply you should request an application pack from Ms Zane Kalnina tdestudentships@brookes.ac.uk, quoting ‘Religion in Opera’ in the subject line. Fully completed applications must be sent to the same email address by 31 October 2014.

As part of the application you should submit a CV, a research proposal (maximum 3 pages), together with a supporting statement summarising your reasons for undertaking this project, preparation undertaken for your project, as well as a summary of your previous research experience.

Please be advised that the selection process may involve an interview on 13 November 2014, and the successful candidate would be expected to commence in the research degree programme in January 2015.

The Opera Stereotypes Alphabet by Dr Barbara Eichner

At the end of our recent conference Beyond Black Tie and Bubbly: Rescuing Opera from Stereotypes, I tried to kick off the general, final discussion with the following ‘alphabet’ that unites beloved buzzwords, common clichés and time-honoured tropes.

A         is for accessibility: opera is more accessible today thanever before in its history – something that’s easily forgotten

B         is for bums on seats: the bottom line of the impresario

C         is for crossover: way forward or cul-de-sac?

D         is for dumbing down: the pet hateof the conservative establishment

E         is for education: can we be taught to love opera?

F          is for fan base: who are they, and what keeps them happy?

G         is for government funding: predictably enrages ‘the taxpayer’, though considerably lower than in many other European countries

H         is for HD Cinema Broadcast: currently the Holy Grail in reaching audiences beyond the opera house

I          is for impact: the persistent need to prove that opera and opera studies are relevant to society

J          is for journalists: is it them who won’t let the clichés die?

K         is for Katherine Jenkins: you know, the opera singer (or is it ‘opera singer’?)

L         is for luxury: see also class

M        is for marketing: hype, hype, hype

N         is for new audiences: what’s wrong with the old ones?

O         is for outreach to ‘ordinary people‘: the group that allegedly would never go to the opera

P          is for privilege: see also class

Q         is for quality versus quantity

R         is for Royal Opera House versus Royal Variety Show

S          is for sexing it up: see also dumbing down

T          is for taste: is opera an expensive acquired taste?

U         is for Unterhaltungsmusik: indeed, opera was and is still part of that

V         is for Victorian popular opera: when did opera stop to be enjoyed by the many in seaside resorts, music halls and brass band concerts?

W        is for working class: does it make some people feel apologetic about liking opera?

X         is for X-Factor: plenty of opera there, but is it the ‘real thing’?

Y         is for Why do we worry about operatic stereotypes?

Z          is for …

… at this point the discussion took over, and a long, spirited and fruitful discussion it was!