The crux of the operatic genre has always been the perennially problematic relationship between text and music. Richard Wagner attempted to solve this conundrum in his new art form of music drama - first embodied in his monumental Ring cycle - which he theorized in gendered terms as a union of poetry (male) and music (female), an imagined marriage between the qualities of Shakespearean drama and Beethovenian symphony. But according to Theodor Adorno, the very notion of symphonic music, which follows its own musical logic, is antithetical to the genre of opera, which demands that music construct itself according to its relationship to language. From the impasse between the demands of the operatic art form and the increasingly autonomous music of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, he theorized the end of opera itself in the age of modernism. This article entwines Wagner's concept of music drama, the musico-dramatic character of Erda who prophesies the end of the world in the Ring, and Adorno's diagnosis of opera's fatal condition in the decades following Wagner, to examine the principle of ending in opera, and of opera, and how the former can be read as a prefiguration of the latter.


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pp. 922-940
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