The revelation of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies: Theology and theatricality in the mid-century stage works

by Connery, Majel A., Ph.D., THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, 2013, 201 pages; 3568530


This dissertation examines a cluster of opera and music theater works in which, as I argue, opera lends itself as the vehicle for a critique of institutionalized Christianity. Theodor Adorno famously argued that opera's underlying premise is theological. Christianity posits the existence of a transcendent world shimmering behind the workaday reality of life on earth; opera likewise aspires to transcend the banality of its earthly conveyance, disclosing an otherwise inaccessible and wondrous other world. The word for this thrilling operation is revelation. In Davies' hands, by contrast, opera turns against its own premises to expose the mechanism of revelation (and, by extension, that of organized Christianity) as decadent and escapist. Davies' stages are constantly falling apart, and his singers on the verge of breaking down. Instead of transporting his audience, he works to ground it in the uncomfortable ordinariness of human existence.

The four chapters of this dissertation focus on works chosen with a view to their generic range (two operas, one monodrama, and one work for dance) and conceptual variety (ranging from religious allegory to rock opera). In addition, the project seeks to balance its historical and theoretical narrative with the pragmatic concerns of staging practice. Chapter 1 fleshes out the major claims of the dissertation and provides an in-depth account of my deployment of the term, “revelation.” Chapter 2 mounts a dual examination of Davies’ first opera, Taverner (1972) and one of his last, Resurrection (1987); Chapter 3 focuses on the monodrama, Eight Songs for a Mad King (1969); an Interlude positioned between Chapters 3 and 4 casts a second look back at Taverner to reconsider the terms of approach in the last chapter; and finally Chapter 4 dissects one of Davies’ only works for dance, the enigmatic Vesalii icones (1969).

AdvisersMartha Feldman; David Levin
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsMusic; Theater; Theology
Publication Number3568530

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