Dr Alexandra Wilson

MA Subject Coordinator
Research Coordinator, Music
Co-Director, OBERTO opera research unit


Alexandra Wilson is a musicologist and cultural historian, with research interests focusing primarily upon Italian opera and operatic culture from the nineteenth century to the present. 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. She has also published articles in leading musicological journals and edited books on topics including historic singers, opera in period film, and contemporary staging practices.

Alexandra is currently working on two major research projects: a monograph on opera and the highbrow/middlebrow/lowbrow debate in 1920s Britain (for which she was awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship) and a book about La bohème for the OUP Oxford Keynotes series

Committed to sharing the findings of her research with a wider public, Alexandra has a high profile as a public musicologist. She has presented numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 (including Opera on 3, Building a Library and Proms concerts), and was recently called ‘a real ambassador for opera’ on Radio 4’s PM programme. She regularly writes programme essays, gives talks, and/or contributes to podcasts for opera companies including the Royal Opera, Opera North, Welsh National Opera, ENO, Wexford Festival Opera and English Touring Opera. She has written about opera for The Times and The Guardian online and for Opera magazine. Her 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 (with Dr Barbara Eichner) of the OBERTO opera research unit and Research Coordinator for Music at Brookes.


Undergraduate Teaching

  • History, Music and Ideas
  • Opera and Politics
  • Undergraduate dissertations

Postgraduate Teaching

  • Research Skills and Applied Research
  • Advanced Musicology 2 (opera strand)
  • Professional Experience
  • MA dissertations
  • PhD supervision

Alexandra would welcome PhD students in any of the areas listed below, under 'Research Interests'.

Research interests

Alexandra Wilson's research is concerned primarily with 19th- and early 20th-century opera viewed within its broader cultural contexts. She is also interested in contemporary debates about opera, and with postmodern interpretations and appropriations of it. She is currently working on two book projects: the first a study of operatic culture in 1920s Britain and the second a cultural history of Puccini’s La bohème. She is able to supervise PhDs in the following broad areas:

  • Opera (particularly Italian opera of the 19th and early 20th centuries)
  • Italian or British operatic culture
  • Reception studies (broadly conceived), music journalism and canon formation
  • Opera in film
  • Gender (particularly constructions of masculinity)
  • Music and nationalism
  • Singers, recordings and constructs of celebrity
  • Debates surrounding high and low culture
  • Music's social, political and aesthetic contexts
  • Contemporary debates about opera


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

‘From “Authenticity” to Anachronism: Pre-Existing Music and “Epic Englishness” in Elizabeth and Master and Commander’, in Stephen C. Meyer (ed.), Music in Epic Film: Spectacular Listening e(New York: Routledge, 2016).

Introduction to Selections from Fausto Torrefranca’s Giacomo Puccini e l’opera internazionale, in Emanuele Senici and Arman Schwartz (eds.), Giacomo Puccini and his World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

'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.

Journal Articles

‘Unreliable Authors, Unreliable History: Opera in Joe Wright’s Adaptation of Atonement’, Cambridge Opera Journal, 27/2 (2015), 155-174.

'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.

Reference Articles

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).

Research Dissemination

Conference papers

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).

Conferences organised

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).

Knowledge transfer

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.

Dr Alexandra Wilson


School of Arts

Oxford Brookes University
Headington Campus
Gipsy Lane
Oxford, OX3 0BP

Tel: +44 (0) 1865 484985



The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity (Cambridge Studies in Opera) cover

The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity (Cambridge Studies in Opera)

Alexandra Wilson

Published by: Cambridge University Press on April 2009

Opera: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides) cover

Opera: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)

Alexandra Wilson

Published by: Oneworld Publications on June 2010

The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century cover

The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century

Rachel Cowgill

Published by: OUP USA on July 2012

The Oxford Handbook of Opera cover

The Oxford Handbook of Opera

Helen M. Greenwald (ed)

Published by: OUP

The Cambridge Verdi Encyclopedia cover

The Cambridge Verdi Encyclopedia

Roberta Montemorra Marvin

Published by: Cambridge University Press on 31 Dec 2013