Journal Article

Intrusive Narrators: The Representation of Narration and Narrators in the Operatic Adaptations of <i>The Great Gatsby</i> and <i>Sophie's Choice</i>

Michael Halliwell

in Forum for Modern Language Studies

Published on behalf of Court of the University of St Andrews

Volume 48, issue 2, pages 222-235
Published in print April 2012 | ISSN: 0015-8518
Published online March 2012 | e-ISSN: 1471-6860 | DOI:
Intrusive Narrators: The Representation of Narration and Narrators in the Operatic Adaptations of The Great Gatsby and Sophie's Choice

Show Summary Details


Opera is a fusion of the narrative and the dramatic: the orchestral music ‘narrates’ the action rather than having that action presented in an unmediated form, as is the primary mode in drama. The singer is not an autonomous character and does not ‘speak’ directly to the audience, but is part of a more complex narrative process. This paper examines the ‘problem’ of the first-person narrators in two important twentieth-century novels and their operatic adaptations: John Harbison's The Great Gatsby (1999) and Nicholas Maw's Sophie's Choice (2004). Both source novels have first-person narrators and foreground the narrative act itself. In their operatic transformation, the composers (who are their own librettists) employ radically different strategies in engaging with narrative. Harbison subsumes Fitzgerald's narrator, Nick, into the action of the opera, but his novelistic narratorial role emerges at crucial moments in the opera where he functions both as character and as narrator. Stingo, in Maw's opera, is literally divided into two characters who ‘shadow’ each other throughout the opera, and finally ‘merge’ into a single narrator at the end. Simultaneously, the orchestral forces in both operas provide another narratorial element which complements but sometimes conflicts with their ‘actual’ narrators. Despite their dissimilar narrative strategies, both operas use their narrators, both physical and musical, in a quasi-literary sense and highlight the strong links between these two seemingly disparate genres, opera and the novel.

Keywords: Fitzgerald, F. Scott; Harbison, John; Maw, Nicholas; Styron, William; The Great Gatsby; Sophie's Choice; opera; novel; orchestra; narrator

Journal Article.  6237 words. 

Subjects: Linguistics ; Literature

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.