Connections between the Gothic and opera remain a subsidiary concern to most writers
on the Gothic and on opera, if they are even addressed at all. In this study I wish to
illuminate how the Gothic is presented both musically and visually on stage through the
setting and thematic traits in select nineteenth-century Italian operas. A number of ideas
are central to this aim. Firstly, that the ‘Gothic’ dimension of ‘Gothic opera’ is overtly
represented through staging. The settings of many ‘Gothic operas’ in Scotland and
England reveal the continental European fascination with northern Europe and its
history. This stemmed from the influx of English and Scottish literature, most
prominently the Ossian poems and the works of Walter Scott and Shakespeare.
Consequently, Gothic scenes such as ruined medieval castles and rugged cliffs, masked
by darkness or mist are enmeshed with a northern landscape. Tartan costuming also
visually situates the Gothic scenes in Northern Europe. Furthermore, the use of musical
mannerisms of Scotland and England, particularly in chorus scenes, reinforces this
parallel between the Gothic and the north, linking music to the visible Gothic setting.
Secondly, I will explore the way in which Gothic imaginings of both immaterial and
physical incarnations of the supernatural move between the latent subconscious and
conscious realisation. This is evident through the interplay between voice, orchestra
and the singer’s corporeality and draws upon recent operatic studies concerning
representation of ‘others’, dramatisation, and theatrical spaces. This second section
positions women at the heart of the Gothic in opera, as the soprano is most often the
character susceptible to other-worldly encounters and madness.
The fundamental figure in this study is Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848). A
number of his operas from the 1830s, especially Lucia di Lammermoor, emphasise how
the Gothic may be revealed in opera. However, I conclude with a chapter on Macbeth,
the ‘Gothic opera’ of Giuseppe Verdi (1813-1901), for this work demonstrates how the
configuration of the Gothic is developed in musical and dramatic terms and presents a
case where the supernatural influence becomes all-empowered.