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Four centuries of suicide in opera


Pridmore, S and Auchincloss, S and Soh, NL and Walter, GJ, Four centuries of suicide in opera, Medical Journal of Australia, 199, (11) pp. 783-786. ISSN 0025-729X (2013) [Refereed Article]

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Copyright 2013 Medical Journal of Australia

DOI: doi:10.5694/mja13.10724


Objective: To describe the depiction of completed suicide, non-fatal suicidal acts and suicidal thought in Western opera over the past four centuries.

Design and setting: Examination of synopses all of the operas listed in a recent monograph covering a selection of operas written in the period 1607-2006.

Main outcome measures: Frequency of completed suicides, non-fatal suicidal acts and suicidal thoughts over the entire 400-year period and in separate 100-year periods (1607-1706, 1707-1806, 1807-1906 and 1907-2006); circumstances of suicides; sex of the suicidal characters; and, for completed suicide, the method.

Results: There were 337 operas in total. In 112 (33%), there was completed suicide alone, non-fatal suicidal acts or suicidal thoughts alone, or both. There was at least one suicide in 74 operas (22%); female characters accounted for 56% of these. Non-fatal suicidal acts or suicidal thoughts were found in 48 operas (14%); male characters accounted for 57% of these. Suicide, non-fatal acts and suicidal thoughts always followed an undesirable event or situation. Cutting or stabbing was the most common method of suicide (26 cases). Other methods included poisoning (15 cases), drowning (10 cases), hanging (four cases), asphyxiation (four cases), "supernatural" methods (four cases), immolation (three cases), jumping from a height (two cases), shooting (one) and blunt trauma (one). Mass suicide occurred on two occasions.

Conclusions: Over several centuries in opera, suicide has been frequently represented as an option when characters have been faced with a distressing event or situation. Historical fluctuations in the frequency of suicidal behaviour in opera may be explained by changes in attitudes towards suicide and its conceptualisation.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Research Division:Health Sciences
Research Group:Health services and systems
Research Field:Mental health services
Objective Division:Health
Objective Group:Public health (excl. specific population health)
Objective Field:Mental health
UTAS Author:Pridmore, S (Professor Saxby Pridmore)
UTAS Author:Auchincloss, S (Dr Stephanie Auchincloss)
ID Code:88473
Year Published:2013
Web of Science® Times Cited:4
Deposited By:Medicine
Deposited On:2014-02-04
Last Modified:2018-05-04

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