Nina Penner
Research Associate

Nina Penner is a musicologist who is at Duke for two-year postdoc, funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Her work lies at the intersection of opera studies, analytic philosophy, and literary theory. Her first book A Philosophy of Operatic Storytelling  (under contract with Indiana University Press's Musical Meaning and Interpretation Series) theorizes how opera tells stories in comparison with other media. Her next book project will be on the nature of authorship and collaboration in opera, examined through a case study of Myfanwy Piper, a twentieth-century British librettist. She has secondary research and teaching interests in the American musical and film music.

Ph.D., Musicology, McGill University, 2016
M.A., Musicology, University of Toronto, 2009
B.Mus., Clarinet Performance, University of Toronto, 2007

Current Research Interests

My first book, A Philosophy of Operatic Storytelling (under contract with Indiana University Press), explores such topics as the role of narrators in opera, how music can orient spectators to the points of view of characters, how subjective access to characters may engender sympathy for them, and how the performers’ decisions impact the point of view from which an opera is told.

My next project asks Why do we speak of the operas of Mozart, Verdi, and Britten rather than those of Da Ponte, Piave, and Piper? What, precisely, is the nature of opera authorship and how should this be reflected in opera scholarship? I address these questions on two fronts. On the theoretical side, I subject the concepts of authorship and collaboration to closer scrutiny than they have hitherto received in opera studies by bringing the field into dialogue with analytic philosophy. On the practical side, I put these new theoretical understandings of opera authorship and collaboration into practice through a case study of Myfanwy Piper’s collaborations with Benjamin Britten and Alun Hoddinott.

I have secondary areas of interest in the American musical and film music. “Rethinking the Diegetic/Nondiegetic Distinction in the Film Musical” (appearing in the Fall 2017 issue of Music and the Moving Image) combines these interests, exposing problems with the use of the terms diegetic and nondiegetic in connection with film musicals.

​I am also working on two articles that bring current work in analytic philosophy to a musicological readership. One proposes a revision to prevailing assumptions about the ontology of musical works in musicology. The other advocates for a rehabilitation of the figure of the author in musicological discourse.

Office Hours

I'm in my office most days during regular working hours and welcome visitors interested in talking about opera/musical theatre and philosophy.

Current Appointments & Affiliations

Contact Information

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