Beyond the Trigger Warning: Teaching Operas that Depict Sexual Violence

Kassandra L. Hartford

Abstract


In recent years, it has become clear that sexual violence on college campuses has become an epidemic. In response, there has been a call for “trigger warnings,” a formal notification for students that the materials that will be studied may trigger traumatic memories. These are pressing issues for music historians: the operatic canon is rife with scenes of sexual violence and implied sexual violence. Even introductory music history textbooks frequently include Don Giovanni, Rigoletto, or Wozzeck. In this article, I outline four strategies for approaching sexual violence in opera. First, sexual violence must be named as such. Second, instructors need to prepare students for such discussions and allot classroom time for the reaction to and processing of these issues. Third, instructors need to be cognizant of the ways that particular productions shape students’ understanding of an opera’s meaning, and should choose productions carefully and discuss productions with students. Finally, I suggest that it is important to identify campus partners among the staff and faculty and to create dialogues about the best practices in conjunction with those campus partners. By thinking more holistically about the ways that we respond to operatic depictions of rape, I assert that we can retain important and powerful works in the courses that we teach, teach students to engage critically with operatic texts and relevant contemporary issues, and work to change rape culture on campus.


Keywords


opera, trigger warnings

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ISSN 2155-109X