Professor Alexandra Wilson
BA (Hons), MA, PhD
Professor of Music and Cultural History
School of Arts
Professor Alexandra Wilson is a musicologist and cultural historian, with research interests focusing primarily upon Italian opera and British operatic culture from 1900 to the present.
Her monograph The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity (Cambridge University Press) was awarded the American Musicological Society's Lewis Lockwood Award for a work of outstanding musical scholarship. She returned to her long-standing interest in Puccini with her most recent book, Puccini's La Bohème (Oxford University Press).
Professor Wilson's book Opera in the Jazz Age: Cultural Politics in 1920s Britain, which was funded by a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship, marked a first step into exploring historic British attitudes towards opera. She is currently pursuing this work in greater depth, writing a book tracing the history of the opera/elitism stereotype and investigating the history of popular opera in Britain from 1920-2020.
Committed to sharing the findings of her research with a wider public, Professor Wilson has a high profile as a public musicologist. She has presented numerous broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 (including Opera on 3, Building a Library and Proms concerts), and was recently called ‘a real ambassador for opera’ on Radio 4’s PM programme. She regularly writes programme essays, gives talks, and/or contributes to podcasts for opera companies including the Royal Opera, Opera North, Welsh National Opera, Scottish Opera, Glyndebourne, ENO, English Touring Opera, and Opera Holland Park. She has written about opera for The Times and The Guardian online and for Opera magazine and BBC Music Magazine (for whom she also regularly reviews CDs and DVDs).
Future projects include editing a book called Puccini in Context and writing a Cambridge Music Handbook on Cavalleria rusticana and Pagliacci, both for CUP.
Alexandra Wilson is Co-Director (with Dr Barbara Eichner) of the OBERTO opera research unit. When not on leave, she runs the MA in Music and is Research Coordinator for Music at Oxford Brookes.
Teaching and supervision
- History, Music and Ideas
- Opera and Politics
- Special Study in Musicology
- Undergraduate dissertations
- Research Skills and Applied Research
- Advanced Musicology 2 (opera strand)
- Professional Experience
- MA dissertation
When not on leave, Alexandra teaches a range of music history modules, at undergraduate and postgraduate level, in topics from the eighteenth century to the present and with a particular focus upon opera.
Alexandra can supervise PhDs in any of the following areas:
- Opera (particularly Italian opera of the 19th and early 20th centuries)
- Italian or British operatic culture
- Reception studies (broadly conceived), music journalism and canon formation
- Opera in film
- Music and nationalism
- Singers, recordings and constructs of celebrity
- Debates surrounding high and low culture
- Music's social, political and aesthetic contexts
- Contemporary debates about opera
- Adaptation studies / music in period drama
Professor Alexandra Wilson's research to date has been concerned primarily with 19th- and early 20th-century opera (particularly Italian opera), viewed within its broader cultural and social contexts. She is also interested in the cultural politics of opera, particularly in twentieth- and twenty-first-century Britain.
Research grants and awards
- Winner of the American Musicological Society's Lewis Lockwood Award for an exceptional work of musicological scholarship (2008) for The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity
Major external funding
- 2018-22: Leverhulme Major Research Fellowship for the project "Opera wars: culture, accessibility & identity in Britain, 1900-2020"
- 2014-15: British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship for the project "Opera, Popular Culture and Cultural Categorisation in 1920s Britain"
Internal awards and recognition
- 2016: Awarded a Brookes Research Excellence Award
- 2015: Awarded a Brookes 150th Anniversary PhD studentship
- 2012: Awarded a Faculty "Next 10" award for research excellence
- Randall-MacIver Junior Research Fellowship, St Hilda’s College Oxford (2004-05)
- Junior Research Fellowship, Worcester College, Oxford (2001-04)
Committed to sharing the findings of her research with a wider public, Dr Wilson has a high profile as a public musicologist. She has presented numerous broadcasts for Radio 3, including Opera on 3, Building a Library and the Proms. She was recently called ‘a real ambassador for opera’ on Radio 4’s PM programme.
Alexandra regularly works on public engagement projects with leading opera companies in the UK and overseas. She has written numerous programme book essays for the Royal Opera House, as well as for WNO, Opera North, English Touring Opera, Wexford and opera companies in Spain and Greece. She has given pre-performance talks for Glyndebourne Touring Opera, ENO and the Royal Opera, and was interviewed during a live cinema broadcast of the Royal Opera's production of Madama Butterfly. She has contributed to podcasts for Glyndebourne and the BBC. She has also written CD and DVD sleeve liner notes.
Alexandra Wilson has written about opera for The Times and The Guardian online and written essays for Opera magazine and BBC Music Magazine.
Projects as Principal Investigator, or Lead Academic if project is led by another Institution
- Opera wars: culture, accessibility & identity in Britain, 1900-2020 (01/09/2018 - 28/08/2023), funded by: Leverhulme Trust, funding amount received by Brookes: £216,322
Wilson A, 'Opera for the "Country Lout": Italian Opera, National Identity and the Middlebrow in Interwar Britain'
Journal of Modern Italian Studies 26 (1) (2021) pp.54-69
ISSN: 1354-571X eISSN: 1469-9583Abstract Published here Open Access on RADAR
Wilson A, 'Unreliable Authors; Unreliable History: Opera in Joe Wright's Adaptation of Atonement'
Cambridge Opera Journal 27 (2) (2015) pp.155-174
ISSN: 0954-5867Abstract Published here
Wilson A, 'Golden-age thinking: updated stagings of Gianni Schicchi and the popular historical imagination'
Cambridge Opera Journal 25 (2) (2013) pp.185-201
ISSN: 0954-5867Abstract Published here
Wilson A, 'Music, Letters and National Identity: Reading the 1890s Italian Music Press YES'
Nineteenth-Century Music Review 7 (2) (2010) pp.101-118
ISSN: 1479-4098 eISSN: 2044-8414Published here
Wilson A, 'Defining Italianness: the opera that made Puccini'
The Opera Quarterly 24 (1/2) (2008) pp.82-92
ISSN: 0736-0053 eISSN: 1476-2870Published here
Wilson A, 'Killing Time: Contemporary Representations of Opera in British Culture'
Cambridge Opera Journal 19 (3) (2008) pp.249-270
ISSN: 0954-5867 eISSN: 1474-0621Abstract Published here
Wilson A, 'Modernism and the Machine Woman in Puccini’s Turandot'
Music and Letters 86 (3) (2005) pp.432-451
ISSN: 0027-4224 eISSN: 1477-4631Abstract Published here
Wilson A, 'Torrefranca vs. Puccini: Embodying a Decadent Italy'
Cambridge Opera Journal 13 (1) (2001) pp.29-53
ISSN: 0954-5867 eISSN: 1474-0621Abstract Published here
Memberships of professional bodies
- Member of Royal Musical Association. Ordinary Member, RMA Council; RMA Proceedings Committee and Annual Conference Sub-Committee (2009-2012).
- Member of the American Musicological Society. Member-at-Large of AMS Council (2010-2012); AMS's Lewis Lockwood Award Committee (2011-13; Chair in 2013); Janet Levy Award Committee (2016-18; Chair in 2018).
Conference papers and talks
Dr Wilson has presented numerous papers at specialist subject conferences in the UK, the US and Italy. She has spoken particularly frequently at the AMS annual meeting and the RMA annual conference. She has been invited to give talks at institutions including Cardiff University, Royal Holloway, the University of Bristol, Warwick University, Birmingham Conservatoire, the Royal Northern College of Music, the Institute of Musical Research and the Institute of Historical Research.
With Dr Barbara Eichner, Alexandra Wilson has organised annual OBERTO conferences since 2011, on topics including operatic acting, opera reception studies and operatic stereotypes. She has organised several OBERTO events at the Institute of Musical Research in London. She has served on the programme committee for the RMA Annual Conference and Research Students' Conference.
Press, publicity and reviews
Reviews of Opera in the Jazz Age: Cultural Politics in 1920s Britain
- "It's communicative, revelatory, and prophetic. Read it, to interpret the runes of opera's past and its potential future in the United Kingdom". (Tom Service, Music Matters, BBC Radio 3, 12 January 2019)
Reviews of The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity
- 'As accessible as Puccini's music itself...a book that can engage both scholars and the opera-going public' (Musical Times)
- 'Extensively researched and intelligently argued...a fine addition to the Puccini bibliography' (Opera Magazine)
- 'It's a rare occasion when a scholar taps into the mother lode, but Alexandra Wilson has done just that with The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity. And she has done it exceptionally well [...] The book is packed with interesting and important information, observations that moved me to take out a pencil and underline nearly every sentence' (Helen Greenwald, Music & Letters)
- 'There is no better time...for a historical reflection on what Alexandra Wilson describes in her excellent new book as "The Puccini Problem"...Wilson's book on the cultural context of Puccini's music and the response to it presents a very welcome contribution to the field' (Axel Korner, The Opera Quarterly)
- 'A very enjoyable read...Wilson's The Puccini Problem is a rich investigation of how a major cultural figure's impact cannot be divorced from a complex and dynamic understanding of his time. As such, it is a compelling book not only for musicologists and music critics, but for anyone interested in the history and culture of modern Italy in its European context' (Laura Wittman, Cambridge Opera Journal)
Endorsements of Opera: A Beginner's Guide
- 'Alexandra Wilson is a gifted writer and has packed a world of history, culture, and music into her new opera guide. While providing the reader with the expected information on operatic history and terminology, Wilson goes at least two steps further to explore issues that will be relevant to the modern reader, among them: politics, gender, race, media and production'. (Helen Greenwald, Department of Music History and Musicology, New England Conservatory)
- 'Engaging and easily readable...As useful to students of opera as to the curious amateur, Alex Wilson's Beginner's Guide makes a huge contribution to the popularisation of a "living art" and its associated academic disciplines'. (Clair Rowden, School of Music, University of Cardiff)
- 'Admirably compact...Packed with richly resonant material'. (Daniel Snowman, Institute of Historical Research, University of London)