Dr Alexandra Wilson
MA Subject Coordinator
Research Coordinator, Music
Alexandra Wilson is a musicologist and cultural historian, with research interests focusing primarily upon late 19th- and early 20th-century opera and operatic culture and contemporary debates about opera. Her monograph The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity was awarded the American Musicological Society's Lewis Lockwood Award for a work of outstanding musical scholarship.
Committed to sharing the findings of her research with a wider public, Alexandra has presented numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio 3, and written programme essays and given educational talks for the Royal Opera and other opera companies in the UK and abroad. Her second book, Opera: A Beginner's Guide, seeks to demystify opera and demonstrate its relevance to contemporary life.
Alexandra Wilson is Subject Coordinator for the MA in Music, Co-Director of the OBERTO opera research unit and Research Coordinator for Music at Brookes.
Alexandra has been awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship in order to work on a major project on operatic culture in 1920s Britain and is on leave in 2014-15.
- Module leader, History, Music and Ideas
- Module leader, Opera and Politics
- Undergraduate dissertations
- Subject Coordinator, MA in Music
- Module leader, Key Concepts and Methods in Research
- Module leader, Approaches to Opera
- MA dissertations
- PhD supervision
Alexandra would welcome PhD students in any of the areas listed below, under 'Research Interests'.
Alexandra Wilson's research is concerned with 19th- and early 20th-century opera (particularly Puccini), and with postmodern interpretations and appropriations of opera. She has two current research projects: one on operatic culture in 1920s Britain and another on the ways in which opera is exploited in contemporary constructions of the past. Her broader research interests include: reception studies; national identities; gender; music's social, political and aesthetic contexts; historic singers; opera staging; opera on film; and the cultural history of early twentieth-century Italy and Britain.
- Opera (particularly Italian opera of the 19th and early 20th centuries)
- Reception studies (broadly conceived) and canon formation
- Music journalism
- Operatic culture in late 19th- and 20th-Century Italy and Britain
- Contemporary debates about opera
- The use of opera in film
- Gender (particularly constructions of masculinity)
- Singers, recordings and constructs of celebrity
- Debates surrounding high and low culture
- Music's social, political and aesthetic contexts
- Historiography and periodisation
The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity
Cambridge University Press (2007, paperback 2009).
Winner of the American Musicological Society's Lewis Lockwood Award (2008)
'As accessible as Puccini's music itself...a book that can engage both scholars and the opera-going public' (Musical Times)
'Extensively researched and intelligently argued...a fine addition to the Puccini bibliography' (Opera Magazine)
'It's a rare occasion when a scholar taps into the mother lode, but Alexandra Wilson has done just that with The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity. And she has done it exceptionally well [...] The book is packed with interesting and important information, observations that moved me to take out a pencil and underline nearly every sentence' (Helen Greenwald, Music & Letters)
'There is no better time...for a historical reflection on what Alexandra Wilson describes in her excellent new book as "The Puccini Problem"...Wilson's book on the cultural context of Puccini's music and the response to it presents a very welcome contribution to the field' (Axel Korner, The Opera Quarterly)
'A very enjoyable read...Wilson's The Puccini Problem is a rich investigation of how a major cultural figure's impact cannot be divorced from a complex and dynamic understanding of his time. As such, it is a compelling book not only for musicologists and music critics, but for anyone interested in the history and culture of modern Italy in its European context' (Laura Wittman, Cambridge Opera Journal)
Also available in Greek translation as The Puccini Case: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity, Greek National Opera Publications (2008).
Opera: A Beginner's Guide
Oneworld Publications (2010)
'Alexandra Wilson is a gifted writer and has packed a world of history, culture, and music into her new opera guide. While providing the reader with the expected information on operatic history and terminology, Wilson goes at least two steps further to explore issues that will be relevant to the modern reader, among them: politics, gender, race, media and production'. (Helen Greenwald, Department of Music History and Musicology, New England Conservatory)
'Engaging and easily readable...As useful to students of opera as to the curious amateur, Alex Wilson's Beginner's Guide makes a huge contribution to the popularisation of a "living art" and its associated academic disciplines'. (Clair Rowden, School of Music, University of Cardiff)
'Admirably compact...Packed with richly resonant material'. (Daniel Snowman, Institute of Historical Research, University of London)
Chapters and Articles
Chapters in edited books
'Gender', in Helen Greenwald (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Opera (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).
'Galli-Curci Comes to Town: The Prima Donna's Presence in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', in Rachel Cowgill and Hilary Poriss (eds.), The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).
'A Frame Without a Canvas: New Perspectives on the Reception of Madama Butterfly', in Arthur Groos and Virgilio Bernardoni (eds.), Madama Butterfly: L'orientalismo di fine secolo, l'approccio pucciniano, la ricezione (Florence: Olschki, 2008), pp. 349-73.
'Golden-Age Thinking: Updated Stagings of Gianni Schicchi and the Popular Historical Imagination', Cambridge Opera Journal, 25/2 (2013), 185-201.
‘Music, Letters and National Identity: Reading the 1890s Italian Music Press’, 19th-Century Music Review 7/2 (2010), 99-116.
'Defining Italianness: The Opera that made Puccini', The Opera Quarterly 24/1-2 (2008), 82-92.
'Killing Time: Contemporary Representations of Opera in British Culture', Cambridge Opera Journal, 19/3 (2007), 249-270.
'Prima Donnas or Working Girls? Opera Singers as Female Role Models in Britain, 1900-1925', Women's History Magazine, 55 (2007), 4-12.
‘Modernism and the Machine Woman in Puccini’s Turandot’, Music & Letters, 86/3 (2005), 432-451.
‘Torrefranca vs. Puccini: Embodying a Decadent Italy’, Cambridge Opera Journal, 13/1 (2001), 29-53.
Essays on ‘England’, ‘London’, ‘Muzio’, ‘Reyer’ and ‘Casa di riposo’ in The Verdi Encyclopedia, ed. Roberta Montemorra Marvin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).
Essays on ‘Music: Performance and Patronage’ and ‘Choral Music’, in The Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850, ed. Christopher John Murray, New York and London, Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004, 187-188 and 768-769.
- British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship (2014-15)
- Oxford Brookes ‘Next 10’ research programme (2012-14)
- American Musicological Society’s Lewis Lockwood Award (2008)
- Randall-MacIver Junior Research Fellowship, St Hilda’s College Oxford (2004-5)
- Junior Research Fellowship, Worcester College, Oxford (2001-4)
Membership of Professional Bodies
- Member of Royal Musical Association. Ordinary Member of the RMA's Council and member of the RMA's Proceedings Committee and Annual Conference Sub-Committee (2009-2012).
- Member of the American Musicological Society. Member-at-Large of AMS Council (2010-2012) and a member of the AMS's Lewis Lockwood Award Committee (2011-13; Chair in 2013).
2013 - 'Puccini and the Period Film: Constructing the Past through Operatic Fantasy in A Room with a View and Atonement': 79th Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society (Pittsburgh) - supported by funding from the Music & Letters Trust.
2012 - 'Golden Age Thinking: Recent Productions of Gianni Schicchi and the Popular Historical Imagination': 'Love to Death: Transforming Opera' (incorporating the RMA Annual Conference) (Cardiff University / Wales Millennium Centre)
2011 - ‘Becoming a Modern Milo: Opera Propaganda, Imperialism and Masculinity in 1920s Britain’: 77th Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society (San Francisco)
2011- ‘Private Passions: Puccini, Periodisation and the Filming of Modern Desire’, Royal Musical Association Annual Conference (University of Sussex)
2009 - 'Galli Curci Comes to Town: The Prima Donna's Presence in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction', Institute of Historical Research, University of London (invited speaker); 75th meeting of the American Musicological Society, Philadelphia, PA.
2009 - 'A New Type of Star: Opera, Recording, and Celebrity in 1920s London', Department of History, Royal Holloway, University of London (invited speaker)
2008 - 'Puccini the Modernist' (panel member), 74th meeting of the American Musicological Society, Nashville, TN.
2008 - 'The Land Without Opera? Investigating 20th-Century British Operatic Culture', Institute of Musical Research (London); University of Bristol (invited speaker).
2007 - 'Critical Domains: Music Journalism, Reception Studies and the Public, 1800-1920' (panel member), 73rd meeting of the American Musicological Society, Quebec City
2007 - 'Prima Donnas or Working Girls? Opera Singers as Role Models in Turn-of-the-Century Britain', Sixth Biennial Conference on Music in 19th-Century Britain (University of Birmingham); and Postgraduate Research Seminar Series, Birmingham Conservatoire (invited speaker).
2005 - ‘Cloudless Blue Skies: Constructing Puccini as National Hero’, 71st Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society, Washington D.C.; and (2006) University of Warwick/Birmingham Italian Studies seminar series (invited speaker).
2004 - ‘A frame without a canvas: decoration and decadence in Madam Butterfly’, Convegno internazionale di studi ‘Madama Butterfly: L’orientalismo di fine secolo, l’approccio pucciniano, la ricezione’, Centro Studi Giacomo Puccini, Lucca and Torre del Lago (invited speaker); and 13th International Conference on 19th-Century Music, University of Durham.
2003 - Turandot, modernism and Fascist culture’, 69th Annual Meeting of the American Musicological Society, Houston, Texas.
2002 - ‘Science or Sentiment? Wagner, Puccini and the People’, 12th International Conference on 19th-Century Music, Bretton Hall, University of Leeds.
2001 - ‘Puccini and Patriotism’, Research Colloquia Series, Faculty of Music, University of Oxford (invited speaker).
2013 - Co-organiser, 'Staging Operatic Anniversaries', OBERTO, Oxford Brookes University
2012 - Co-organiser, 'Operatic Masculinities', OBERTO, Oxford Brookes University
2012 - Programme committee member, 'Love to Death: Transforming Opera', Cardiff University / RMA Annual Conference
2012 - Programme committee member, RMA Research Students' Conference, University of Hull
2011 - Co-organiser, 'Beyond Press Cuttings: New Approaches to Reception in Opera Studies', OBERTO, Oxford Brookes University
2008 - Co-organiser, 'Cultivating Britons: Culture and Identity in Britain, 1901-1936', Oxford Brookes University (in conjunction with Dr Alex Windscheffel, Dept of History, Royal Holloway, and Dr Ruth Clayton Windscheffel, Theology Faculty, University of Oxford)
2008 - Programme committee member, 'Opera, Exoticism and Visual Culture: The Fin de Siecle and its Legacy', School of Advanced Study, University of London.
2004 - Co-organiser, ‘From Fin de Siècle to Fascism: Music in Italian Culture 1900-1950’, St John’s College, Oxford.
2002 - Co-organiser, ‘Literature and Music in the Study of Culture’, Worcester College, Oxford (jointly with the Open University).
Alexandra Wilson's presenting work for BBC Radio 3 has included the BBC Proms, Building a Library, the new releases slot on CD Review, Opera on 3, Artist Focus, "Alexandra Wilson" (Breakfast Show) and various interval talks. Her monograph was reviewed on Music Matters. For Radio 4 she has contributed to The Real History of Opera and The Today Programme, and she has been interviewed live from the Proms for BBC 4 television and for the World Service.
Alexandra has given pre-performance talks for the Royal Opera, English National Opera, Glyndebourne Touring Opera and the BBC Proms.
Alexandra has written numerous programme book essays for the Royal Opera House. She has also written for the programmes for Bilbao Opera, the Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, Greek National Opera and Wexford Festival Opera, amongst others. She is an occasional contributor to Opera magazine.