Summer Research Seminar, 2017


Theatre, Masque, and Opera in England and Italy, 1580 to 1650: Performance Practices and Cognitive Ecologies

McGill University, Montréal, Québec
31 July – 23 August, 2017

Seminar leaders:
Julie E. Cumming (Schulich School of Music, McGill:;
Evelyn B. Tribble (English, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand:;

Sponsored by:
Early Modern Conversions (
McGill’s Institute for the Public Life of Arts and Ideas (
The Schulich School of Music ( )

English theatre and Italian opera between c. 1580 and 1650 have a great deal in common.  Both regions had significant traditions of court theatre (masque; intermedii and court opera); both saw the rise of commercial theatre (the London theatres; Venetian public opera); both engaged with issues of love, history and politics, religion, disguise, and conversion. Boy actors, castrati, and cross dressing raise fascinating gender issues. Professional training combined with theatrical conventions were required for professionals (actors, writers; singers, instrumentalists, composers) to put on shows with very limited rehearsal time.  Significant bodies of scholarship on both traditions exist, but the researchers rarely engage with one another, and there is little comparative scholarly work.

Our summer research seminar will bring together scholars and performers who specialize in English theatre, and others who specialize in early Italian opera, to share their work and learn from each other.  While we are open to a wide array of methodologies and interests, we will focus on the performance practices and cognitive ecologies of these two theatrical worlds.  How did they create works and learn their parts?  How did material supports (scripts, libretti, stages, theatres) affect what they could do (on and off stage) and what they couldn’t?  What makes these traditions similar, and how are they different?  Can theatre, masque and opera be seen as conversion machines, operating within distinct cognitive ecologies?

Montreal allows for interaction with other researchers, including faculty, postdoctoral fellows, and graduate students associated with McGill, IPLAI, the Schulich School of Music, and Early Modern Conversions. Activities during the seminar will include workshops on period performance practices in theatre and music (including theatrical gesture, staging practices, musical improvisation, and facsimiles of original performance materials).

Travel and accommodation will be provided by the Early Modern Conversions Project. At the end of the seminar, participants will participate in the annual team meeting of the Early Modern Conversions project, at McGill, 24-26 August. Seminar participants will have rooms at the Trylon Apartments for the duration of the seminar and team meeting. McGill offers rich resources for study including excellent libraries, access to early instruments, and a vibrant theatrical and musical scene.