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The University of Southampton

MUSI2132 The Operas Of Benjamin Britten

Module Overview

In this module you will explore the operas by Benjamin Britten, one of Britain’s most influential composers. Britten’s operas are among the few 20th-century works that hold a central position in today’s operatic canon. They are produced regularly by world-leading opera companies, and they are available in numerous audio and video recordings. Proceeding in rough chronological order from Peter Grimes (1945) to Death in Venice (1973), you will become acquainted with Britten’s most popular works, including Billy Budd, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Turn of the Screw, and Owen WIngrave. Each opera discussed in the module will serve as a case study to explore a broad theme in operatic culture, including reception and dissemination, the adaptation of a literary source to an opera libretto, national identity, social issues, sexuality, and opera and the media.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Knowledge and Understanding

Having successfully completed this module, you will be able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of:

  • The processes of creation, production, dissemination, and reception of Britten’s operas
  • The stylistic features of selected works by Britten
  • The cultural themes explored in key operas by Britten and their relevance at the time and today
Transferable and Generic Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Discuss your knowledge and critical perception of Britten’s operas with your peers and others
  • Research primary and secondary sources
  • Communicate your knowledge and ideas in proficient written prose
  • Present the results of your research with appropriate academic apparatus (footnotes, bibliography, examples).
Subject Specific Intellectual and Research Skills

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand and interpret the social, intellectual, and political forces that shaped Britten’s culture of operas
  • Attain some perception of the multi-layered notion of operatic text
  • Approach opera performances with an increased awareness of their status as (and relation to) ‘permanent’ texts.


Examples of topics that may be explored include:  Opera in the twentieth century: trends, repertoire and cultural significance  Britten’s first large-scale operas: Peter Grimes and Billy Budd: Success and circulation  Expanding opera’s generic boundaries; operas for small companies, the church, and television: The Turn of the Screw, Curlew River, Owen Wingrave  Sexuality and social themes: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Death in Venice  Britten and the legacy of opera in Britain: adaptations and dissemination

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching methods include  Weekly lectures  Class discussion, encouraging each to develop an active and critical awareness of the issues raised  Depending on enrolment numbers, a certain amount of individual time with each student to ascertain their comprehension and absorption of complex issues. Learning activities include  A wide range of reading (certain books and articles will be required reading)  Screening of video recordings  Use of online resources to find journal articles and other material relating to the subjects being studied.  Formative feedback on written work and reading assignments.

Preparation for scheduled sessions26
Wider reading or practice40
Completion of assessment task40
Total study time150

Resources & Reading list

Peter Evans (1997). The Music of Benjamin Britten. 

Philip Brett (2006). Music and Sexuality in Britten: Selected Essays. 

Claire Seymour (2007). The Operas of Benjamin Britten: Expression and Evasion. 


Assessment Strategy

Include details of the proportion and weighting of coursework as well as the number, type and duration of examination(s). You must specify which element will be taken as the final assessment. Differentiation between 2nd and 3rd level work The assessment of skills will be the same as for 2nd level students. For 3rd level students taking this unit, expectations will be higher than those for 2nd level students, and the assessment criteria will be accordingly stricter. In particular:  Topics chosen should allow a greater degree of focus and detail, whether of analysis, examination of and commentary on facts, critical insight, independent argument, or other factors.  Conversely, assignments should demonstrate a broader knowledge and understanding of context, a more confident use of analytical and critical tools, and a more mature handling of argument, etc.  Optimal standards of presentation are required, in terms of spelling, punctuation, and grammar; sophistication of vocabulary; provision of footnotes; inclusion of full bibliographic and related details; physical appearance of work, etc. In short, 3rd level students should aspire at all times to the highest possible levels of undergraduate work.


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (1600 words) 40%
Essay  (2000 words) 50%
Listening 10%


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2400 words) 60%
Essay  (1600 words) 40%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External

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