Throughout secondary school and University in Canada I studied flute performance, receiving a Bachelor of Music degree from McGill University. After a few years of freelance gigging as a flutist and a music critic, I began graduate study—first at McMaster University (Hamilton, Canada) and then at Cornell University. I’ve been teaching in the Department of Music at the University of California, Berkeley since 1996.
At Berkeley I regularly teach courses on the history and appreciation of opera and classical music. As a specialist in vocal music and music-text relations, I’ve also begun to teach courses on music in popular culture, including a workshop-based seminar on Songs and Songwriting and a lecture course on Music and Data, which covers the mechanics and politics of music recommendation systems and their algorithms, the uses of data analysis for music studies, and music creation with software.
Much of my research has focused on social dimensions of opera in nineteenth-century Europe. My first book, Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera (2004), drew on textual sources (treatises on acting, staging manuals) and musical evidence to suggest close ties between musical patterns and physical gesture in repertory stretching from the first French grand operas of the 1830s to Verdi’s Aida and Wagner’s Ring. My second book, Waiting for Verdi: Opera and Political Opinion in Nineteenth-Century Italy, 1815–1848 (2018) tackled the question of how opera mattered to audiences in nineteenth-century Italy and how it made a difference to political and social realities during that period.
I am currently working on two book-length projects—a theoretical study of trends in opera production since 1970 and an alternative history of French theories of voice, music, and language in the twentieth century, extending from Proust through the speech archive of Ferdinand Brunot, Michel Leiris’s flamboyantly operatic memoirs, cabaret songs based on the poetry of Raymond Queneau, and the austere audiovisual experiments of Alain Resnais. With David Levin (University of Chicago), I co-edit the book series Opera Lab for the University of Chicago Press.
- “Elephants in the Music Room: The Future of Quirk Historicism,” introduction to a special issue on Quirk Historicism, co-authored with Nicholas Mathew, Representations 132 (Fall 2015), 61-78
- “Michel Leiris and the Secret Language of Song,” Representations 154/1 (Spring 2021)
- “Radical Staging and the Habitus of the Singer,” in Investigating Musical Performance: Towards a Conjunction of Ethnographic and Historiographic Perspectives (Farnham, UK: Ashgate Publishing, 2020)
- Siren Songs: Representations of Gender and Sexuality in Opera (edited collection) (Princeton University Press, 2000)