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Rollman-Branch, H.S. (1963). Psychoanalytic Reflections on Verdi's Don Carlo. Am. Imago, 20(3):241-255.

(1963). American Imago, 20(3):241-255

Psychoanalytic Reflections on Verdi's Don Carlo

Hilda S. Rollman-Branch, M.D.

The psychoanalytic literature on opera is sparse and uninstructive for several reasons. Unlike the spoken drama, opera must be heard to be experienced by all but a few musicians who can translate the reading of a score into auditory knowledge. A play can be analyzed and experienced to a far greater extent by merely reading the text and supplying the action in our imagination. In a scientific paper, parts of a dramatic text can be referenced or quoted, but similar use of musical quotations would be meaningless for most people. A further reason for the restricted interest in writing and reading about opera is the limited familiarity with this art form. Feelings about grand opera are as divided as those about ballet: into enthusiastic devotees and an uninformed or detractive majority. Many people who enjoy a play or a concert will not go to the opera. Why the strong emotional response? What does the music add to the drama that arouses stronger enjoyment or rejection?

Verbal expression differs from other sounds—including music — by its definite form, its particular limitations of meaning, its obedience to intellectual functioning. The spoken and written word preserve the reign of the secondary process. It helps to tame instincts and affects, it reduces the need for acting out, and protects against chaotic unconscious fantasies. Non-verbal sounds, on the other hand, favor the primary process. They reach the reservoir of unconscious fantasies without too many obstacles of resistance because they can by-pass intellectual defenses.

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