Interpreting Puccini’s Suor Angelica: An application of the semiotics of temporality

Słowa kluczowe

Raymond Monelle
levels of discourse
Giacomo Puccini
Suor Angelica
II Trittico
forms in melodrama
marvelous (topic)

Jak cytować

Davis, A. (2018). Interpreting Puccini’s Suor Angelica: An application of the semiotics of temporality. Interdisciplinary Studies in Musicology, (14), 48–61.


This article summarizes recent discussions in the secondary literature of the semiotics of temporality, understood not as time per se but as the “time signified” by the signs in any semiotic system. Drawing especially on theories of the late Raymond Monelle and noting parallels with Monelle in work of, for example, Abbate, Daverio, Kinderman, Hatten, and Berger, the article posits that states of “temporality” in music can correlate with the syntactic signification of linear, teleological motion through time, whereas states of “atemporality” can correlate with syntactic signification of suppressed linear motion through time. As one of the distinguishing semantic characteristics of post Classical music, the signification of extended moments of atemporality is understood as a central expressive issue in the structure of Puccini’s Suor Angelica (from the II trittico of 1918), an opera that divides approximately into two halves: an atemporal half focused on portraying the Roman Catholic church, and a temporal half focused on exploring the character of Angelica, where both halves also include “tropes of temporality” cued by juxtapositions of temporal and atemporal signifiers. That the church in Suor Angelica is elevated to the position of the drama’s primary antagonist is asserted as one of the ways with which the piece engages with the aesthetics of “realism”, an aesthetic that, in turn, informs an interpretation of the opera’s ending, which includes a deus ex machina in the form of an appearance of the Virgin Mary and an apparition of Angelica’s dead son.


Abbate, Carolyn. Unsung Voices: Opera and Musical N arrative in the Nineteenth Century. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991.

Berger, Karol. Bach’s Cycle, Mozart’s Arrow: An Essay on the Origins o f Musical Modernity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

Dahlhaus, Carl. Nineteenth-Century Music. Translated by J. Bradford Robinson. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989 [1980].

Dahlhaus, Carl. Realism in Nineteenth-Century Music. Translated by Mary Whittall. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985 [1982].

Daverio, John. Nineteenth-Century Music and the German Romantic Ideology. New York: Schirmer, 1993.

Davis, Andrew. ‘Il trittico,’ ‘Turandot,’ and Puccini’s Late Style. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2010.

Giger, Andreas. “Verismo: Origin, Corruption, and Redemption of an Operatic Term.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 60 (2007), no. 2: 271-316.

Hatten, Robert. Interpreting Musical Gestures, Topics, and Tropes: Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004.

Hatten, Robert. Musical Meaning in Beethoven: Markedness, Correlation, and Interpretation. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994.

Hatten, Robert. ‘The Troping of Temporality in Music”. In Approaches to Meaning in Music, ed. Byron Almén and Edward R. Pearsall, 62-75. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

Hepokoski, James. “Structure, Implication, and the End of Suor Angelica”. In Virgilio Bernardom, Michele Girardi, and Arthur Groos (eds.), 245-46. Studi Pucciniani 3: ‘L’insolita forma’: Strutture e processi analitici per l’opera italiana mell’epoca di Puccini: Atti del Convegno internazionale di studi Lucca, 20-21 settembre 2001. Lucca: Centro studi Giacomo Puccini, 2004.

Hepokoski, James, and Warren Darcy, Elements o f Sonata Theory: Norms, Types, and Deformations in the Late-Eighteenth-Century Sonata. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Jabłoński, Maciej. Music as Sign. Imatra: International Semiotics Institute, 2010.

Kinderman, William . Beethoven. 2nd edn. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Maehder, Jürgen ed.. Esotismo e colore locale nell’opera di Puccini: Atti del I convegno internazionale sull’opera di Puccini a Torre del Lago. Pisa: Giardini, 1985.

Monelle, Raymond. “Music and the Peircean Trichotomies.” International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 22 (1991), no. 1: 99-103.

Monelle, Raymond. The Sense o f Music: Semiotic Essays. Foreword by Robert Hatten. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Monelle, Raymond. “The Temporal Index”. In Musical Signification: Between Rhetoric and Pragmatics: Proceedings of the 5th International Congress on Musical Signification, Bologna, 14-16 November 1996, ed. Gino Stefani, Eero Tarasti and Luca Marconi, 95-102.

Helsinki: International Semiotics Institute, Bologna: Cooperativa Libraria Universitaria Bologna, 1998.

Schwartz, Arman. “Rough Music: Tosca and Verismo Reconsidered.” 19th-Century Music 31 (2008), no. 3: 228-44.