The Wagner Journal

Kate Hopkins, Agents of Loving Empathy: Wagner Heroines Reassessed

Kate Hopkins, Agents of Loving Empathy: Wagner Heroines Reassessed

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November 2020, Volume 14, Number 3, 31–46.

In recent years, opera has increasingly attracted accusations of sexism. When Catherine Clément’s Opera, or the Undoing of Women – which argued that opera’s stories glorified women’s suffering and death – was first published in English in 1988, it was noticed little outside academia. In the 21st century, a growing number of writers, directors and opera companies concur with Clément’s views. In 2006 Joseph Kerman commented that ‘she no longer seems so easy to dismiss. That our basic, traditional operatic repertory drips with female blood is incontrovertible.’ In 2016 the Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins asked ‘how can I love an art form that is so consistently, insistently cruel to its female characters?’ In 2018 the director Barrie Kosky denounced the entire operatic canon as four hundred years of ‘misogyny. Really! It’s all about hysterical women, sick women.’ The Royal Opera House, meanwhile, became so worried that in 2019 it hosted the public debate ‘Does Opera Hate Women?’ to investigate whether female operatic characters are ‘victims of misogyny or celebrated in powerful stories that place them centre-stage’.

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