Opera in the Media Age: Essays on Art, Technology and Popular Culture

By Zychowicz, James L. | ARSC Journal, Spring 2015 | Go to article overview

Opera in the Media Age: Essays on Art, Technology and Popular Culture


Zychowicz, James L., ARSC Journal


Opera in the Media Age: Essays on Art, Technology and Popular Culture. Ed. by Paul Fryer. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014. 978-0-7864-7329-8 264pp. $45

Original and thought-provoking, Paul Fryer's Opera in the Media Age collects eleven essays that deal with various issues connected to the complex relationships between opera and modern technology. Unlike some volumes in which media may be included as an afterthought, this collection is quite forward-looking when it comes to the ways in which technology serves art, specifically opera. It also treats the current popularity of opera in a positive way, as technology drives audiences to the artform. Fryer discusses this and other topics in his introduction, which offers useful orientation for those who decide to explore individual essays. As strong as the contents of this book is, it is unfortunate that the editor's voice does not extend to narrative that connects the entire volume, since such a perspective seem to be behind the volume.

The discussions in this volume gravitate toward several larger topics, including the relationship with popular culture, the influence of technology on opera production, and, the role of recordings in the opera culture. At the core of this is the performative aspect of the artform, and this element receives fine treatment in "Opera Singers as Pop Stars: Opera within the Popular Music Industry" by Christopher Newell and George Newell. Yet Paul Fryer's article on "The Business of Opera: Opera, Advertising and the Return to Popular Culture" also offers some perspectives on the ways in which opera appears in popular milieus, and complement's "Making Culture Popular: Opera and the Media Industries" by Sam O'Connell concise treatment of the efforts of major opera house, notably the Met, make use of popular media to reach audiences. The latter suggests that further study may reveal some tendencies, if the proper measures could be made, with regard to the larger remote audiences for telecasts of opera into movie theaters, and other, related events. The ticket sales for those production certainly make it easier to measure some of the popular appeal of these efforts, which also gives audiences a different kind of experience than possible in the opera house. This represents a transformation of opera presentation, akin to some of the cinematic developments that Keven Stephens surveys in "Cross-Cuts and Arias: The Language of Film and Its Impact on Opera". Stephens' essay is useful for summarizing some of the ways in which film merges with opera, as found in works like Berg's Lulu, Britten's Owen Wingrave (he does not mention Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors, which has affected some aspects of modern culture in the U.S.). The contention that composers respond to media certainly opens the door for opera to take new dimensions in conception and, perhaps execution. Some of those directions were explored by Trevor Siemens in "Gods and Heroes or Monsters of the Media," which covers some new works that deserve attention and are not often encountered in recent discussions of new opera. It is useful to read the latter two essays together, though, and shows the deep connections that exist between the various contributions to this volume.

Recorded sound certainly has its influence on opera or, at least, the experience of opera in modern culture. Recordings have been one way for audiences to experience opera outside the opera house, and Robert Cannon's essay on "Opera and the Audio Recording Industry" is a terse introduction to the topic. This article bears consideration for the research behind it, and the development of the ideas Cannon presents for a larger body of work. This article certainly has particular resonances for ARSC members, whose efforts connect with this kind of study. It is useful to proceed from Cannon's article to Pierre Bellemare's "Opera on Optical Video Disc, or the Latest (and Final?) Avatar of the Gesamtkunstwerk" for its consideration of filmed opera and, to a degree, opera films. …

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