Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Bill Harbin


Jean-Philippe Rameau was the most celebrated composer of opera and the foremost music theorist in eighteenth century France and great attention has justly been given to his musical and theoretical works, but there has been no corresponding study, such as this one, of the libretti of his operas, which depart from the precepts of neo-classical drama and reflect a new sentimental age. The librettists of the tragic operas of Rameau introduced many innovations to the tragic genre, hitherto forbidden by the rigid canons of neo-classicism. They were free to do so because opera was a relatively new genre which could not readily be defined through a code of rules dating from classical antiquity. The libretti of the tragedies en musique of Rameau depart not only from neo-classical conventions, such as the unities of time, place and manner, but they also introduce elements from other dramatic forms, such as classical comedy and eighteenth century sentimental drama, and adapt them to the purposes of tragic opera. These libretti reflect a sentimental, romantic and essentially Christian sensibility, new not only to opera, but also to tragedy. The librettists treat classical material from Ancient Greece and Rome, not with the awe and reverence of the neo-classicists, but as one of many sources which contributes to the creation of an eclectic and modern form of drama. These operas no longer serve as pure entertainment, but seek to impart an idealistic belief in humanity, in which love is the strongest power for good, having the potential to vanquish all human evil and suffering.