Opera Research Unit (OBERTO)


Opera Research Unit (OBERTO)

Oxford Brookes: Exploring Research Trends in Opera

The opera research unit (OBERTO) provides a forum for the investigation of opera in all its interdisciplinary richness. We explore the history, performance and reception of opera; opera’s political, social and cultural contexts; and critical debates about opera both historical and contemporary.

Established in 2011 by Dr Alexandra Wilson and Dr Barbara Eichner, OBERTO provides a mechanism for conferences, events, publications, funding bids and for supporting early career scholars. We integrate our postgraduate students into our activities and undertake collaborations with opera scholars, performers and directors. For more information about the personal research of OBERTO staff and about our forthcoming events, follow the links to the right..

2016 conference: Operatic Acting, Oxford Brookes, September 8 2016

We invite proposals for individual 20-minute presentations, panel discussions and alternative format sessions such as lecture-recitals or poster presentations. We welcome contributions not only from academics but also from performers and opera industry or media professionals. The CFP can be found at: https://obertobrookes.com/conference/

Abstract deadline is the 1 June 2016

Current projects

  • New approaches to reception studies in opera
  • Operatic masculinities
  • Historical periodisation: implications for Giacomo Puccini and Richard Strauss
  • The use of Puccini's music in film and popular culture
  • Richard Wagner’s music dramas and German national identity
  • The reception of opera and of opera singers in early-twentieth-century Britain
  • The stage works of Ethel Smyth and transnational operatic culture
  • The operas of Benjamin Britten and middlebrow culture

Recent events

  • A trip for staff and students to watch English National Opera's new production of Rigoletto.
  • A talk for OBERTO students by Dr John Snelson, Commissioning Editor (Publications), the Royal Opera House.
  • The Staging Operatic Anniversaries conference in September 2013.
  • Attendance by OBERTO staff and students at the Love to Death: Transforming Opera conference (Cardiff, May-June 2012), where papers were delivered by Alexandra Wilson and Barbara Eichner.
  • A visit to Brookes in spring 2012 by two Ethel Smyth scholars, Marleen Hoffmann (University of Detmold-Paderborn) and Angelika Silberbauer (University of Vienna)
  • A residency at Brookes as an International Visiting Fellow in spring 2012 by Professor Roberta Montemorra Marvin (University of Iowa).
  • A trip by Alexandra Wilson to the 77th Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society (San Francisco, November 2011) to deliver a paper entitled Becoming a Modern Milo: Opera Propaganda, Imperialism and Masculinity in 1920s Britain
  • Our inaugural conference (September 2011): Beyond Press Cuttings: New Approaches to Reception in Opera Studies. A full list of abstracts as well as Katharine Ellis's response will be made available soon. Visit Hugo Shirley's blog to read his contribution "Fatal Conclusions: Criticism under fire", which was part of the round table discussion.
  • A special OBERTO session entitled "New Horizons in the Historiography of Early Twentieth-Century Opera" at the Royal Musical Association annual conference ("Horizons", University of Sussex, July 2011).

Postgraduate Study:

At Oxford Brookes we offer opportunities for the study of opera at Masters and Doctoral level. Students following the ‘Music on Stage and on Screen’ and the 'Music in 19th-Century Culture' pathways of the MA in Music explore recent critical thinking about the creation, performance and reception of opera and have the opportunity to write an extended dissertation on an opera-related topic of their choice. Recent MA dissertations in this area have examined the use of opera in film and contrasting approaches to the staging of Verdi’s Aida.

Staff in the Research Unit warmly welcome enquiries from applicants interested in studying for a PhD. Doctoral supervision is available in a wide variety of opera-related topics from the nineteenth century to the present day, with special emphasis on the German, Italian and British traditions of music theatre. If you would like to discuss any of these opportunities, please contact Alexandra Wilson.


We have recently undertaken research collaborations with colleagues from British and overseas universities, including Dr Ben Winters from the Open University, Dr Clair Rowden from Cardiff University and Professor Roberta Marvin from the University of Iowa.

In order to further research on all things operatic, both nationally and internationally, we invite colleagues, research students and opera lovers to get in touch with us about future events and opportunities for collaboration.

About us

Members of the OBERTO research unit:

Alexandra Wilson (Co-Director) is a musicologist and cultural historian specialising in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century opera viewed within its critical, cultural and political contexts. A particular focus of her research has been the reception and politicisation of Puccini’s works: her monograph, The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity (Cambridge University Press, 2007) was awarded the American Musicological Society’s Lewis Lockwood Award for a work of outstanding musicological scholarship.

More broadly, Alexandra Wilson’s research interests include operatic culture in fin-de-siècle Italy and in twentieth-century Britain; opera and nationalism; singers, recordings and constructs of celebrity; contemporary representations of opera through other media; debates about high and low culture; and the historiography of opera criticism. Wilson has shared her expertise with a wide audience by presenting numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 and by writing programme essays and giving educational talks for opera companies including the Royal Opera, English National Opera and Glyndebourne. Recent activities include presenting a paper about updated stagings of Gianni Schicchi at the 'Love to Death: Transforming Opera' conference (Cardiff, spring 2012); contributing to a podcast about La bohème for Glyndebourne; and being interviewed about Falstaff for BBC Radio 3. Her book Opera: A Beginner's Guide (Oneworld Publications) was published in June 2010.

Barbara Eichner (Co-Director) is a music historian who counts, among her many and varied interests, the stage works of Richard Wagner, Richard Strauss and Ethel Smyth in their historical, cultural and aesthetic contexts. Currently she is preparing for the publishing house Boydell & Brewer a monograph History in Mighty Sounds: Musical Constructions of German National Identity, 1848-1914 (due to appear in autumn 2012), several chapters of which investigate the role of opera in the formation of a German national identity in the second half of the ‘long’ nineteenth century. She is particularly interested in works that are rooted in national myth and history (e.g. the Nibelungs or ‘Hermann the German’), and the question of transnational and cross-cultural transfer and reception. She will also contribute entries on Tannhäuser and Lohengrin to the forthcoming Cambridge Wagner Encyclopedia edited by Nicholas Vazsonyi.

Opera activities include presentations at the IMR London in 2009, ‘The Swan on the Barricades: Reconsidering the Case of Lohengrin’, a paper at the international conference Opera and the Nation at Budapest in October 2010, entitled ‘From bestseller to box office hit: German opera in the age of historicism’. Barbara Eichner is vice-president of the International Ethel Smyth Society established in 2009 for the scholarly investigation and further dissemination of the works of this fascinating composer.

For a list of publications by OBERTO staff, please follow the links to their individual staff profiles.