A multivalent conception of opera, one that understands each operatic domain as functioning independently of every other domain, is one way of accounting for marks of contention: passages in which the music seems not to fit the events, characters, or atmospheres of its accompanying text. With that analytical framework, opera, frequently conceived of as two media subsumed under a cohesive initiative, emerges as a site of elaborate, sometimes contentious, interactions.
Scene 11 of Death in Venice exhibits considerable signs of multivalence. The unusual musical construct of this scene suggests points of reference that are absent in the libretto, and, accordingly, the two media do not distil the protagonist’s character in this passage but rather broaden the representational space into a heteroglossic network of associations.
The incongruities in this scene thereby disrupt the sense of ideological affinity between media, and signal significant differences among artistic perspectives and values. In particular, musico-dramatic dissonances highlight varying concerns regarding the opera’s topic of homosexuality. If the protagonist’s homosexual trajectory in Death in Venice’s libretto ends in shame and death, this is a trajectory that the music might be heard as opposing, even if we cannot translate its meanings precisely.