In our second Brown Bag Series lecture of the Spring 2018 semester, Professor Axel Englund of Stockholm University presented “Opera and Sadomasochism: Erotic Power Exchanges on the Contemporary Stage.” Over the past twenty years, contemporary popular culture themes have become pervasive in the opera world, leading to stagings of popular operas that display, among other things, the visual codes of sadomasochism. In his lecture, Professor Englund discussed the overlap and shared attributes of sadomasochism and opera: their self-conscious theatricality, hyperbolic presentation, expression of sensuality, and the interplay of violence, power, and eroticism that both exhibit. Professor Englund demonstrated how various staging choices can highlight the transgression between imagination and reality through themes of love, longing, war, and violence in works by Mozart, Wagner, and Puccini, among others.
Axel Englund is an Associate Professor of Literature and Wallenberg Academy Fellow at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics at Stockholm University. Specializing in word-and-music studies and comparative perspectives, Professor Englund has worked on authors from various literary traditions – from Rainer Maria Rilke and Marcel Proust to W.G. Sebald and J.M. Coetzee – as well as on musical settings of modernist poetry and contemporary opera staging. His articles have appeared in German Quarterly, German Life and Letters, Mosaic, and Perspectives of New Music, as well as in numerous anthologies. He is the author of Still Songs: Music In and Around the Poetry of Paul Celan.