19th-Century Opera and Revolution in European Context

Dragana Jeremić-Molnar

Typology: Lecture, Seminar

This course addresses to MA and PhD students


The course is conceived with aim to provide two basic insights: first, into the spread of revolutionary ideas and movements through the European continent in 19th century (basically during the first half of it), and, second, to highlight the role of opera in this process. Opera is discussed not only as work of art exposed to the influence of revolutionary political ideas, but also as the significant driver of revolution. In the first half of 19th century revolutionary forces in Europe are liberalism and radical republicanism. In the second half, however, the ideological configuration of Europe becomes more complex and leads to the formation of something that, at first glance, resembles an oxymoron: the revolutionary conservatism. While the revolutionary conservatism gains real political strength only in 20th century, it is decisively shaped already in 19th century and one of its most important “ingredients” is, right from the beginning, opera. In order to investigate these complex interactions in its European context, the course will focus on a link between Daniel-François-Esprit Auber’s opera La Muette de Portici and something that could be called Richard Wagner’s “tetralogy” – its first draft (Siegfrids Tod), its full exposure (Der Ring des Nibelungen), and its ideological finalisation (Parsifal). Through this operas the revolutionary dynamics of 19th-century Europe could be reconstructed: beginning with liberals in 1830, culminating with radical republicans in 1848/1849 and undergoing conservative change in last decades of century.

Structure of the course

Part I: Revolutionary Movements in Europe in the first half of 19th-Century

  1. Revolutionary politics of liberals in 1830: France and Netherlands
  2. Revolutionary politics of radical republicans in 1848/1849: France and Germany
  3. Revolutionary opera in Paris and Bruxelles (1830): Auber’s La Muettede Portici
  4. Wagner’s Reception of Auber’s La Muettede Portici
  5. Revolutionary opera in nuce in Dresden (1848/1849): Wagner’s Siegfrids Tod

Part II: Revolutionary Conservatism in German Reich

  1. Revolutionary consequences of right-wing extremist politics in German Reich
  2. Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen in Bayreuth 1876: German and European Context
  3. Wagner’s Parsifal in Bayreuth 1882: German and European Context


  • Sarah Hibberd, French Grand Opera and the Historical Imagination, Cambridge University Press, 2009;
  • Sarah Hibberd, “La Muette and her context”, David Charlton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 149–167;
  • Hobsbawm, E. J., The Age of Revolution. 1789–1848, New York, Vintage Books, 1996;
  • Thomas Grey, “Richard Wagner and the legacy of French grand opera”, David Charlton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 321–343;
  • Dragana Jeremić-Molnar and Aleksandar Molnar: Myth, Ideology, and Mystery in the Richard Wagnerʼs Tetralogy. ʼDer Ring des Nibelungenʼ and ʼParsifalʼ, Belgrade, Zavod za udžbenike i nastavna sredstva, 2004, 478 p.
  • Dragana Jeremić-Molnar: Richard Wagner, constructor ofgenuine  Regeneration through Bayreuther Festspiele, Belgrade, Book Factory, 2007, 396 p;
  • Hervé Lacombe, “The ‘machine’ and the state”, David Charlton (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 21–42;
  • Richard Wagner, “Reminiscences of Auber (1871)”, Richard Wagnerʼs Prose Works. Vol. 5: Actors and Singers, William Ashton Ellis (trans.), London, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1895.
  • Richard Wagner, “Opera and Drama”, Richard Wagnerʼs Prose Works. Vol. 2: Opera and Drama, William Ashton Ellis (trans.), London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., Ltd., 1900.


By the end of this course, students will be able to:

  • understand the key dimension of the relations between revolutionary ideas in the 19th-century Europe and opera;
  • identify and describe the major issues on integrative processes through the history;
  • discuss and outline the main issues such as “Europeanization” and transformative power of music.


1st acad. year: 2nd acad. year: 3rd acad. year: Total over 3 years:
N° of hours 15 15 15 45
N° of students 40 40 40 120
Discipline of


Musicology, Music Performance
Year/type of study 2nd cycle (Masters) Doctoral studies
Nature Compulsory New