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Dr Alexandra Wilson

BA (Hons), MA, PhD

Reader in Music

School of Arts

Faculty of Technology, Design and Environment

Alexandra Wilson

Alexandra Wilson is a musicologist and cultural historian, with research interests focusing primarily upon Italian opera and operatic culture from the nineteenth century to the present. Her monograph The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity was awarded the American Musicological Society's Lewis Lockwood Award for a work of outstanding musical scholarship. She has also published articles in leading musicological journals and edited books on topics including historic singers, opera in period film, and contemporary staging practices.

Alexandra is currently working on two major research projects: a monograph on opera and the highbrow/middlebrow/lowbrow debate in 1920s Britain (for which she was awarded a British Academy Mid-Career Fellowship) and a book about La bohème for the OUP Oxford Keynotes series.

Committed to sharing the findings of her research with a wider public, Alexandra 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, ENO, Wexford Festival Opera and English Touring Opera. She has written about opera for The Times and The Guardian online and for Opera magazine. Her book Opera: A Beginner's Guide seeks to demystify opera and demonstrate its relevance to contemporary life.

Alexandra Wilson is Subject Coordinator for the MA in Music, Co-Director (with Dr Barbara Eichner) of the OBERTO opera research unit and Research Coordinator for Music at Brookes.

 Teaching overview

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. 

Modules taught

Undergraduate Teaching

  • History, Music and Ideas
  • Opera and Politics
  • Special Study in Musicology
  • Undergraduate dissertations

Postgraduate Teaching

  • Research Skills and Applied Research
  • Advanced Musicology 2 (opera strand)
  • Professional Experience
  • MA dissertation


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
  • Gender (particularly constructions of masculinity)
  • 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


Alexandra Wilson's research is concerned primarily with 19th- and early 20th-century opera viewed within its broader cultural and social contexts. She is also interested in contemporary debates about opera, and with postmodern interpretations and appropriations of it. 

Research group membership

With Dr Barbara Eichner, Dr Wilson is Co-Director of the OBERTO opera research unit at Oxford Brookes. 

Research grants and awards

Book prize

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

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

Research Fellowships

Randall-MacIver Junior Research Fellowship, St Hilda’s College Oxford (2004-5)

Junior Research Fellowship, Worcester College, Oxford (2001-4)

Research impact

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 contributed essays for Opera magazine.

Further information


The Puccini Problem: Opera, Nationalism, and Modernity
Cambridge University Press (2007, paperback 2009).

Opera: A Beginner's Guide
Oneworld Publications (2010) 

Peer-reviewed journal articles

‘Unreliable Authors, Unreliable History: Opera in Joe Wright’s Adaptation of Atonement’, Cambridge Opera Journal, 27/2 (2015), 155-174.

‘Golden-Age Thinking: Recent Productions of Gianni Schicchi and the Popular Historical Imagination’, Cambridge Opera Journal, 25/2 (2013), 185-201.

‘Music, Letters and National Identity: Reading the 1890s Italian Music Press’, 19th-Century Music Review, 7/2 (2010), 99-116.

‘Defining Italianness: The Opera that made Puccini’, The Opera Quarterly, 24/1-2 (2008), 82-92.

'Killing Time: Contemporary Representations of Opera in British Culture', Cambridge Opera Journal, 19/3 (2007), 249-270.

'Prima Donnas or Working Girls? Opera Singers as Female Role Models in Britain, 1900-1925', Women's History Magazine, 55 (2007), 4-12.

‘Modernism and the Machine Woman in Puccini’s Turandot’, Music & Letters, 86/3 (2005), 432-451.

‘Torrefranca vs. Puccini: Embodying a Decadent Italy’, Cambridge Opera Journal, 13/1 (2001), 29-53.

Chapters in edited books

‘From “Authenticity” to Anachronism: Pre-Existing Music and “Epic Englishness” in Elizabeth and Master and Commander’, in Stephen C. Meyer (ed.), Music in Epic Film: Spectacular Listening (New York: Routledge, 2016).

Introduction to Selections from Fausto Torrefranca’s Giacomo Puccini e l’opera internazionale, in Emanuele Senici and Arman Schwartz (eds.), Giacomo Puccini and his World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

'Gender', in Helen Greenwald (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Opera (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014).

‘Galli-Curci Comes to Town: The Prima Donna’s Presence in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’, in Rachel Cowgill and Hilary Poriss (eds.), The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 328-348.

‘A Frame Without a Canvas: New Perspectives on the Reception of Madama Butterfly’, in Arthur Groos and Virgilio Bernardoni (eds.), Madama Butterfly: l’orientalismo di fine secolo, l’approccio pucciniano, la ricezione (Florence: Olschki, 2008), 349-73.

Reference Articles

Essays on ‘England’, ‘London’, ‘Muzio’, ‘Reyer’ and ‘Casa di riposo’ in The Verdi Encyclopedia, ed. Roberta Montemorra Marvin (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014).

Essays on ‘Music: Performance and Patronage’ and ‘Choral Music’, in The Encyclopedia of the Romantic Era, 1760-1850, ed. Christopher John Murray, New York and London, Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004, 187-188 and 768-769.

Membership 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 Royal Holloway, the University of Bristol, Warwick University, Birmingham Conservatoire, the Institute of Musical Research and the Institute of Historical Research.

Conferences organised

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 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)

Further information