Opera and Disability (O&D) is dedicated to exploring the representation of disability in opera.


From deadly diseases and debilitating wounds, visual impairments and deafness, to physical impairments such as lost limbs and spinal deformities, to cognitive and mental disorders – the opera stage has always been a platform for the representation of disability.

Despite recent strides towards the incorporation of disability studies frameworks into musicology, representations of disability in opera have been afforded very little critical attention.


O&D begins to address this by discussing various manifestations of disability in opera narratives and the interpretation of such narratives in opera production.

Areas of Exploration

Narrative and Characterisation

  • How are disabled characters imagined and depicted in opera narratives?

  • How do operas incorporate stereotypical models of disability representation (such as those found in literature, film, and television)?

  • How do narratives about disability and disabled characters draw upon and reflect the culture in which they were created?


  • How is disability represented in opera productions, both historically and today?

  • What can aspects of dramaturgy, casting, costume and set design contribute to the depiction of disability on stage?

  • How do we approach the issue of ‘performing’ disability and the associated question of authenticity?

  • How can we make the industry more accessible and inclusive?

A Note on Definition

Disability is a multifaceted and highly complex concept and this complexity is only amplified when we look at its historical representation. Disability has been understood broadly and has taken on diverse meanings throughout time and across cultures. The website therefore defines disability widely, and includes considerations of a variety of mental, physical and sensory impairments. Given their prevalence within opera narratives, wounds and diseases will also occasionally feature.

A Note on Terminology

Because O&D often considers representations of disability in their historical context, it operates on the basis that the most significant insights can be found by exploring and challenging (rather than ignoring) the language of the past. Content may occasionally use terminology that is used in original librettos or their associated cultural context.

Support the Project

If you would like to support the project, donations of any size are gratefully received. O&D is managed and maintained by a single researcher and any funds raised will be used to pay for the hosting and maintenance of the site, essential research materials (such as scores) or costs for images or recordings for the site where creative commons/royalty free versions are not available.