Reconfiguring Myth and Narrative in Contemporary Opera: Osvaldo Golijov, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams, and Tan Dun

Reconfiguring Myth and Narrative in Contemporary Opera: Osvaldo Golijov, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams, and Tan Dun

Reconfiguring Myth and Narrative in Contemporary Opera: Osvaldo Golijov, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams, and Tan Dun

Reconfiguring Myth and Narrative in Contemporary Opera: Osvaldo Golijov, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams, and Tan Dun

Synopsis

Yayoi Uno Everett focuses on four operas that helped shape the careers of the composers Osvaldo Golijov, Kaija Saariaho, John Adams, and Tan Dun, which represent a unique encounter of music and production through what Everett calls "multimodal narrative." Aspects of production design, the mechanics of stagecraft, and their interaction with music and sung texts contribute significantly to the semiotics of operatic storytelling. Everett's study draws on Northrop Frye's theories of myth, Lacanian psychoanalysis via Slavoj Zizek, Linda and Michael Hutcheon's notion of production, and musical semiotics found in Robert Hatten's concept of troping in order to provide original interpretive models for conceptualizing new operatic narratives.

Excerpt

The inspiration for writing this book came from lively debates I have had with friends and colleagues following performances of new operas at various venues over the course of ten years. Often, the underlying questions centered on whether the opera was successful in its treatment of music, portrayal of characters, narrative proportion, and staging. Back in 2003, I recall debating the profound stasis and circularity in Kaija Saariaho’s L’Amour de loin at its premiere in Amsterdam’s IJstheater; while my Dutch colleague dismissed the opera on the basis that “the music goes nowhere,” I defended the absence of teleology as an essential feature of the musical drama. At the Lincoln Center’s 2005 premiere of Brian Ferneyhough’s Shadowtime, my friends and I similarly debated whether this concert-opera, chronicling Walter Benjamin’s war trauma in a fragmented sequence of dialogues, monologues, and instrumental pieces, constituted a legitimate opera; the booing and hissing from the audience at the end of the performance indicated that an opera awash in angular, atonal language without flowing lines, and lacking narrative continuity could not be called an opera. Following the Lyrical Opera of Chicago’s 2007 premiere of John Adams’s Doctor Atomic in Chicago, a composer colleague and I disagreed on the theatrical excesses and the lengthy proportion of the second act in Peter Sellars’s mise-en-scène. “Why does it have to go on for so long?” she asked, to which I replied that it had to do with creating a portal into the mythic experience of an operatic apocalypse.

These diverging responses to live performances attest to the fact that opera involves a complex negotiation with the libretto, music, action, lighting, and other aspects of the production. Considering these issues, this book addresses new developments in operatic production that have become commonplace since the 1980s; while music and libretto constitute the initial source material, they operate in counterpoint with variable production components of the director’s mise-enscène, including choreography, lighting, props, and filmic projections. the signifying capacity of music and text may be greatly altered by the performative components of an opera’s mise-en-scène. But why have these new operas stirred up hours of heated debate? What lies at the root of our disagreements in our interpretive experience of opera?

In the last two decades, scholarship on opera has expanded its range of critical discourse by taking into account gender, cultural, literary, psychoanalytic, and media theories. in Unsung Voices (1991), Carolyn Abbate examines the performative dimensions of opera by exploring what she calls the “narrating voice.” in Feminine Endings (1991), Susan McClary offers a gender-based discourse cen-

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