Opera & Politics … A Close Encounters Conversation with Mitchell Cohen

Politics-of-Opera3:00 pm • Sunday, November 12th 2017
Saint James Place • Great Barrington, MA

Another election day in America has passed. An off-year election year, but local and state elections can offer much and are just as important in a variety of ways as those for national issues and posts. With this in mind, it’s perhaps fitting to point our attention to the Hudson Hall’s production of the opera The Mother of Us All by Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein, which chronicles the life of Susan B. Anthony through her fight for women’s suffrage in the United States as the center point of the story. Now, rumor has it the performances are all sold out, but … if you’re interested in attending, contact Hudson Hall to be sure.

Another timely event is Close Encounters With Music’s engaging “Conversations With …” series as part of its 2017-18 season. The one taking place this Sunday in Great Barrington is a conversation with author and scholar Mitchell Cohen, who has recently written a book entitled The Politics of Opera—A History from Monteverdi to Mozart (Princeton Press). Mitchell Cohen is professor of political science at Baruch College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York and editor emeritus of Dissent magazine. His books include Zion and State and The Wager of Lucien Goldmann (Princeton). His writing has appeared in such publications as The New York Times and the Times Literary Supplement.

In his book, Cohen combines his academic expertise in political science and lifelong interest in the spectacle of opera to take readers on an intriguing journey into the entwined development of opera and politics, from the Renaissance through the turn of the nineteenth century. For Sunday’s “Conversations With…” Mitchell Cohen will explore the political dimensions of libretti and ideological elements of opera, which absorbs and mirrors currents of the day in dramatic dress-up. The questions you may hear posed may include:

  • What political backdrops have shaped opera?
  • How has opera conveyed the political ideas of its times?
  • To what extent do operas express the political and cultural ideas of their age?
  • How do story lines, harmonies and musical motifs reflect the composer’s view of the changing relations among art, politics, and society?

Cohen, as in his book, will likely delve into European history and thought and an array of music by such greats as Lully, Rameau, and Mozart to reveal how politics—through story lines, symbols, harmonies, and musical motifs—have “played an operatic role both robust and sotto voce.”

After taking in Cohen’s investigation into the intersections of music and the state, you may never hear opera the same again!

We’ll wish you happy musicking for the weekend and leave you with the little opera and political tidbit that emerged this past summer in the video below.

Click here for contact info for tickets.

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