Two lines of inquiry have developed in recent years which might be described as ‘sociology of opera’, though neither has as yet run to much of the quantitative study characteristic of sociology as a modern academic discipline.
The first is concerned with the inner workings of opera as a genre and of particular operas. It asks what these tell us about social relations in the cultures from which opera (or particular operas) sprang: opera, it assumes, is a revealing witness because, in the elaboration of the artistic means brought to bear on it, the genre lends itself to embodying projections of the fears, desires and conflicts at work within society. Inquiries of this kind have so far been few. Wagner’s Der Ring des Nibelungen has called up several, the best-known being the still controversial essays by Bernard Shaw, Thomas Mann and Theodor Adorno: this is hardly surprising, since the Ring...