Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Gesture, Temporality, and the Politics of Engagement in Opera on Film: Penny Woolcock's the Death of Klinghoffer

Academic journal article Music, Sound and the Moving Image

Gesture, Temporality, and the Politics of Engagement in Opera on Film: Penny Woolcock's the Death of Klinghoffer

Article excerpt

In a time when opera converts its newest fans and makes its greatest impact in movie theatres, examining the relationship of opera and film is a particularly worthwhile endeavour, one that is made not only more difficult by the constantly changing nature of its relationship, but also more exciting by the growing body of scholarship that has followed this change. Siegfried Kracauer's well-known statement that 'Opera on the screen is a collision of two worlds detrimental to each other'2 provokes a consideration of how the meeting of opera and film might be evaluated; as Marcia Citron reminds us, screen opera 'bears the tensions of its components' (2000: 6), especially since, as Jeremy Tambling has suggested, the genre 'remains so inbred' (1987: 3). Of course, the success of operatic adaptations can only be studied on a case-by-case basis, by considering how a given filmic adaptation has responded to or even re-imagined some element of its operatic original. One of the most exciting developments in the growing scholarship in the field is the idea that we could understand the relationship of film and opera as more subtle and complex than that suggested by the conception of opera as film's subordinate, or even the opposite, an idea evidenced in Peter Conrad's remark that 'One of the bequests of film to opera is its demonstration that song is not soliloquy, not overt statement: that the voice is consciousness - or the yearning subconscious - overheard' (1987: 173). This statement is only one of many that remind us of the possibility for operatic works to find fruitful interpretations in film, to be enhanced by the medium, even to reveal more (or different sides) of themselves in their filmic form than they can in their original form. Most significantly, it points to the possibility for the foreignness of film to uncover - even enhance - elements such as voice and subjectivity that are so central to the operatic art. In this essay, I will examine the re-imagining of John Adams/Alice Goodman's 1991 opera T he Death of Klinghoffer on film (for television) by Penny Woolcock in 2003. Through an exploration of the work's subversion of traditional notions of operatic subjectivity, and its skilful manipulation of the listening subject, I will suggest that Woolcock's film serves to reinvigorate the echoes of political engagement that are at the heart of the work by underscoring two of its central features: its temporal profile, and its problematic construction of subjectivity (both for the character of Leon Klinghoffer in the opera, and also for the listener/viewer). Specifically, through its re-imagining of the function of the operatic aria, Woolcock's film introduces the possibility that song in opera might be employed and interpreted in a more complex narrative fashion than it has been traditionally. In contrast to interpretations that find Woolcock's production to be subversive of the musical element and insistent upon a unimodal approach, I suggest that it might be seen as offering several significant points of interaction with the opera's score and libretto, resulting in an effectual intensification of the subject position of the listener/viewer, and further opportunity for political reflection as a result. Finally, I propose ways that the temporal profile of the opera and film might be heard to conflict with aspects of Jewish culture and ideology, thereby allowing my focus on this element of the work a very significant cultural resonance.

The Death of Klinghoffer is one of the most controversial operas of our time. Premiered under high security in Brussels in 1991: it was John Adams's second opera and his second collaboration with librettist Alice Goodman and director Peter Sellars. As the composer of Nixon in China, and recently, Doctor Atomic, Adams is no stranger to controversial topics. This opera concerns the 1985 hijacking of the Italian cruise liner the Achille Lauro by four members of the Palestinian Liberation Front, which resulted in the murder of a 69-year old disabled Jewish American man. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.