Leadership in opera: romance, betrayal, strife and sacrifice

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What, if anything, does opera tell us about leadership, leaders and followers, that social research or indeed other art forms do not tell us? This is the question I address here. I argue that opera is a highly political genre, able to depict political events involving leaders and followers in sharply illuminating ways. In particular, through the device of the chorus it is able to represent the political actions and sentiments of large multitudes of people in their complexity and ambiguity. It is also capable of portraying many of the contradictions of leadership in a critical light. In particular, I argue that opera offers powerful insights into the psychology of leaders confronted by crisis and strife. It highlights the sacrifices they make, the distance and isolation that frequently afflicts them, the different ways in which they wield power and handle conflicts and the tensions between their private and public lives. In showing them meting out favours and punishments, opera warns of rulers’ perennial temptation to abuse their power and highlights some of the dark sides of leadership.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-19
Number of pages15
Issue number1
Early online date25 Aug 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • dark side of leadership
  • Followership
  • isolation
  • opera
  • power abuses
  • sacrifice


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