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The portrayal of male homoeroticism in selected early classical operas

Steven Eric Soebbing, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The purpose of this document is to demonstrate how male homoeroticism was represented in early Classical opera, with a focus on two operas in depth: Mozart's Apollo et Hyacinthus and Gluck's Iphigénie en Tauride. Each work is contextualized within the time period's theatrical performance practice, the legal status of homosexual activity, and the representation of homoeroticism in literature and the visual arts, especially the representation of these myths in art. This document shall not only explore how homoeroticism was portrayed on the stage but also why it was portrayed. Within Apollo et Hyacinthus, homoerotic behavior is both encouraged and discouraged because the Roman Catholic Church (and by extension Salzburg University) wanted to privilege male friendship over female attachment and simultaneously prohibit carnal homosexual acts. The Church was grooming these students for the celibate religious life, and therefore wanted these men to reject sex with females (marriage) while encouraging close bonding with other males (monastic life). The Church had to be careful that male friendship never turned into physical desire, which would qualify as a mortal sin. The plot of Apollo et Hyacinthus reflects this uneasy balancing act. In Iphigénie en Tauride, the homoerotic nature of Oreste and Pylade's relationship was meant to appeal to the patrons of the Paris Opéra, while at the same time the homoeroticism had to be subtle enough not to offend the general public. The general public could view the relationship of Pylade and Oreste as chaste if they so desired. But for the aristocratic Parisian male inclined towards homosexual desire, Gluck and Guillard's tale of mythological male friendship celebrated the possibilities of homoerotic male partnerships. Male homoeroticism was often represented in Classical opera and was used for many different purposes. In Apollo et Hyacinthus, it instructed Catholic doctrine. In Iphigénie en Tauride, it appealed to a paying public. Homoeroticism was not always portrayed negatively. The portrayal of homoeroticism was nuanced and dependent upon the intended audience.

Subject Area

Music|GLBT Studies|Theater History|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Soebbing, Steven Eric, "The portrayal of male homoeroticism in selected early classical operas" (2012). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3504208.