Opera: The Undoing of Women

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Opera: The Undoing of Women
L'opera ou la defaite des femmes.jpg
Author Catherine Clément
Country France
Language French
Subject Opera
Published 1979
Media type Print

Opera: The Undoing of Women (French: L’Opéra ou la Défaite des femmes) is a 1979 book by French philosopher Catherine Clément. In it, Clément explores the way in which traditional operatic plots often feature the death of female characters - in her words, "the infinitely repetitive spectacle of a woman who dies, murdered."[1] Besides the literal deaths of characters such as Carmen, Cio-Cio-San, Isolde and Mélisande, Clément also discusses metaphorical deaths - for example, Turandot's power and the Marschallin's sexuality.

Clément makes many references to works outside the field of traditional musicological and opera scholarship, including Jules Michelet's La Sorcière and Claude Lévi-Strauss's Mythologiques.

The English translation, published 1988, is by Betsy Wing with a foreword by Susan McClary.

Operas discussed[edit]


Some critics, including musicologist Carolyn Abbate, criticized Clément's failure to discuss the music of opera in her focus on the libretto. These critics argue that although female characters die, they also hold the "authorial voice" and thus, through singing, reverse the tradition of the passive, silent woman as object.[2][3][4]


  1. ^ Clément, Catherine (1988) [1979]. Opera: The Undoing of Women. Trans. Betsy Wing. University of Minnesota Press. p. 47. ISBN 0-8166-3526-9. 
  2. ^ Pendle, Karyn (2001). Women and music. Indiana University Press. p. 7. ISBN 978-0-253-21422-5. 
  3. ^ Abbate, Carolyn (1995). "Opera; or, The Envoicing of Women". In Ruth A. Solie. Musicology and difference. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-20146-0. 
  4. ^ Robinson, Paul (January 1, 1989). "It's not over until the soprano dies". The New York Times. Retrieved September 28, 2010.