Blindness and visual impairment in opera
European Journal of Ophthalmology
6 - 12
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Purpose: The performing arts mirror the human condition. This study sought to analyze the reasons for inclusion of visually impaired characters in opera, the cause of the blindness or near blindness, and the dramatic purpose of the blindness in the storyline. Methods: We reviewed operas from the 18th century to 2010 and included all characters with ocular problems. We classified the cause of each character’s ocular problem (organic, nonorganic, and other) in relation to the thematic setting of the opera: biblical and mythical, blind beggars or blind musicians, historical (real or fictional characters), and contemporary or futuristic. Results: Cases of blindness in 55 characters (2 as a choir) from 38 operas were detected over 3 centuries of repertoire: 11 had trauma-related visual impairment, 5 had congenital blindness, 18 had visual impairment of unknown cause, 9 had psychogenic or malingering blindness, and 12 were symbolic or miracle-related. One opera featured an ophthalmologist curing a patient. Conclusions: The research illustrates that visual impairment was frequently used as an artistic device to enhance the intent and situate an opera in its time.