Ideology in Britten’s Operas

Kazimir Severinovich Malevich (1879-1935), The Red House, 1932Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2018.

Book description

This book offers a thematic examination of the operas of Britten, focusing in particular on the way that ideology is presented on stage. To watch or listen to Britten’s operas is to engage with a vivid artistic testament to the ideological world of mid-twentieth-century Britain. But it is more than that, too, because in many ways Britten’s operas proffer to contemporary receivers a diagnosis of certain unresolved problems in our own time. Only rarely, as in Peter Grimes, which shows the violence inherent in all forms of social and psychological identification, does Britten unmistakably call into question fundamental precepts of his contemporary ideology. This has not, however, prevented some writers from romanticizing Britten as a quiet revolutionary. This book argues, in contrast, that his operas, and some interpretations of them, have obscured a greater social and philosophical complicity that it is timely – if at the same time uncomfortable – for his early twenty-first-century audiences to address.

  • Offers a new interpretation of Britten’s operas in the light of theories of ideology
  • Provides detailed analytical, historical, and critical-theoretical interpretations of Britten’s operas
  • Offers a richly detailed picture of the ideological situation of Britten’s own time and its continued ramifications in the early twenty-first century


Preface [xiii]

Part I: Mappa mundi
1 Defining ideology
2. Ideological narratives

Part II: The Ship of State

3. From manifest violence to its historical sediment
4. The occultation of history

Part III: New World
5. Women and children
6. A shadow falls on castle walls