Nina Penner is a musicologist who works on opera/musical theatre, film, and video games. One of the overarching aims of her research is to bring musicology and analytic philosophy into a closer rapport. Her work reveals not only the resources this philosophical tradition can bring to musicology but those which musicology can bring to philosophy.
Her first book, Storytelling in Opera and Musical Theater (Indiana University Press, 2020), is the first systematic exploration of how sung forms of drama tell stories. Through examples from opera’s origins to contemporary musicals, Dr. Penner examines the roles of character-narrators, how music can orient spectators to characters’ points of view, how being privy to characters’ inner thoughts and feelings may evoke sympathy or empathy, and how performers’ choices affect not only who is telling the story but what story is being told. Dr. Penner also reflects on how centuries-old works remain meaningful to contemporary audiences and have the power to attract new, more diverse audiences to opera and musical theatre.
Dr. Penner’s current research brings the growing body of philosophical work on games to ludomusicology. In Games: Agency as Art, philosopher C. Thi Nguyen argues that “when we play games, we take on an alternate form of agency. We take on new goals and accept different sets of abilities.” Dr. Penner and her research assistants are exploring the roles music plays in shaping players’ in-game values, goals, and actions.
Dr. Penner teaches Music in Global Cultures, Western Music from Hildegard to Haydn, Western Music from Beethoven to Beyoncé, Storytelling in the Musical Theatre, and Film Music. Hear Dr. Penner speak about the Music Department’s efforts to disrupt colonial power structures on the Foreword podcast:
Penner, Nina. “Sonic Spectacle in Erich Wolfgang Korngold’s Score to Max Reinhardt’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935).” In Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music, edited by Christopher R. Wilson and Mervyn Cooke, 1023–43. New York: Oxford University Press, 2022.