Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


A brief history of the origins of opera in the United States identifies titles, composers, and premieres to establish the point that composers in America were active in writing operas and that the music of European composers were available to them as models for their own works. A history of Shakespearean operas from their origin in the late seventeenth century in England to the present (1985) follows to illustrate that Shakespearean operas by American composers did not appear until after the Second World War. Eleven American composers are cited with their Shakespearean works. Their operas are grouped under three headings: festive comedies, dark comedy and romance, and tragedies. Among the comedies are three operas based on The Taming of the Shrew: Christopher Sly by Dominick Argento; and two operas of the same title as the play by Philip Greeley Clapp and Vittorio Giannini, respectively. The other comedies are Twelfth Night by David Amram, Love's Labour's Lost by Nicolas Nabokov, and Night of the Moonspell--after A Midsummer Night's Dream--by Elie Siegmeister. A dark comedy, All's Well That Ends Well by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, and a romance, Winter's Tale by John Harbison, are discussed together. From the tragedies are Prince Hamlet by Sam Raphling and two operas based on Antony and Cleopatra by Louise Gruenberg and Samuel Barber, respectively. Each of the operas is discussed according to the choice of characters, their voice classification, the instrumentation and size of the orchestra, the comparative lengths of the operas in acts and scenes, the similarity or departure from the story line of the play, and the manner in which the libretto is derived from Shakespeare's text. Two hundred and eighty-five musical examples illustrate points concerning instrumental music, musical characterizations, and vocal ensembles. Finally, the relationships among all the operas are discussed, and from these, conclusions are drawn and recommendations for future research indicated. An epilogue on why American composers are turning to the plays of Shakespeare as a basis for some of their operatic works suggests historical, dramatic, and musical reasons.