Framing opera as a collaborative genre compels an examination of differences. In particular, opera's media may be understood as simultaneous but not necessarily as cooperative or neutral. This conception of opera raises issues of power dynamics and the politics of voice, both within the work and among its artists. In Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice, musico-dramatic dissonances center on the protagonist's homoerotic obsession with a young boy. His momentous ““I love you”” at the end of the act 1 finale is accompanied by a musical gesture that does not affirm but rather resists this coming-out event. The gesture's subsequent transformations in other passages that contain no text, and two years later in Britten's Third String Quartet, reinforce the sense of musical opposition to the libretto's homosexual trajectory——a trajectory that results in the protagonist's shame and untimely death.
If musical detachment from the libretto suggests subtext, then it also points to alternative voices. Britten's homosexuality, and the pressures that accumulated around sexual identity in postwar England, argue for connections between musical distance and closeted discourse. Analysis must acknowledge the role of the composer's experiences in the varying characterizations of the protagonist but must also cope with the limits to this type of investigation: The attempt to draw definitive connections between music and sexuality limits the suppleness of our critical apparatus. Conceiving of opera as collaboration prompts a reevaluation of the work as potentially contradictory and fragmented but also advocates against the resolution of such contradictions into coherent authorial statements. Collaboration dislodges autonomy and unity and in their place recommends polyphonies——of authors and voices, among media but also within them.
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