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date: 14 June 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Operatic dramas often set to music the extremes of human bodily experience—disease, death, and violence—all duly tinged with hues of eroticism. Not surprisingly then, the genre includes a number of works that stage scenes of corporal punishment. These moments of physical suffering can focus attention on the body in a way that even Mimi’s consumption or Carmen’s stabbing cannot. This chapter examines three such scenes in operas by Britten (Billy Budd), Adams (Nixon in China), and Lloyd Webber (Jesus Christ Superstar) to see how music, action, and text multimodally represent not only the cruel impact of blows, but also the emotional impact for victim, punisher, onstage onlookers, and audience. Close readings of the three scenes draw on theories of embodied rhythm and mimetic listening to engage the question of how this music “gets into our bodies” and helps us to experience the dramas.

Keywords: Britten, Billy Budd, Adams, Nixon in China, Lloyd Webber, Jesus Christ Superstar, corporal punishment, opera, embodied rhythm, mimetic listening

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