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Opera and Parody

Humorous drawings, which range from the classic charge with grotesquely big heads on small bodies, to sophisticated cartoon parody of both opera and its conventions for a more or less initiated audience, reveal the cultural agency of the iconographic press and raise the issues of adaptation and intertextuality, reception and readership.


Parodical spectacles are perhaps even more ephemeral than published drawings as few sources remain in order to establish a performance text – libretti were sometimes published but very few of these spectacles comprised a fully written or newly composed score that has survived.

As for the operatic comic strips, which appeared regularly in Parisian satirical journals from the mid-1880s to around 1900, parodical spectacles throughout the second half of the nineteenth century testified to the cultural significance of the work parodied.

While stage parodies exist for many successful works, parodies of operetta (which were sometimes parodies of operas themselves) were undoubtedly the most prolific. Parodies of Wagner’s operas in the sensitive Parisian reception climate also provide moments that crystallise not only public opinion, but parodical procedures and practices.


Dr Clair Rowden published the article Memorialisation, Commemoration and Commodification: Massenet and Caricature’ in Cambridge Opera Journal.

In addition, Dr Rowden contributed a chapter:

  • on ‘Cariculture’ in 1890s Paris, to a volume edited by Antonio Baldassare, Debra Pring and Pablo Sotuyo Blanco (Enhancing music iconography research: considering the current, setting new trends).
  • on Parodying Tannhäuser on the Parisian popular stage, 1861, for publication in the volume Traces of Performance (ed. Anne Sivuoja-Kauppala).

Dr Rowden has also recently published a monograph which deals not only with opera and its cultural mediation in the iconographic press at the end of the nineteenth century in France, but also other forms of parodical treatment, including popular staged parody. Opera and Parody in Paris, 1860-1900 was published by Brepols in 2020.

Associated staff

Professor Clair Rowden

Professor Clair Rowden

Professor of Musicology

+44 (0)29 2087 0462