Is This Still Opera? Media Operas as Productive Provocations

By Michaels, Bianca | Themes in Theatre, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Is This Still Opera? Media Operas as Productive Provocations


Michaels, Bianca, Themes in Theatre


"THAT'S NOT OPERA ANYMORE"

Several years ago, at the world congress of the International Federation for Theatre Research in Amsterdam (2002) I gave a presentation on CNN operas in the course of which I parenthetically mentioned the phenomenon of television opera. Television opera functioned as an example of operas that were musically, dramaturgically and scenographically conceived for the medium of television. One woman in the audience was visibly annoyed that the composers called their works for television "operas". For me, it was the first of several encounters with the seemingly widespread conviction that "that's not opera anymore". During my research on media operas-works that have been conceived and composed for audiovisual media-I realised that the term "opera" in this context seems to be so challenging that people feel obliged to protect the concept of opera from being abused. However, if-for example-a television opera such as Perfect Lives by Robert Ashley is not considered an opera, then what is a proper opera? Instead of proposing yet another definition of what opera is, the following article asks why some works that are called operas by their composers provoke opposition against the use of the term "opera". To contextualise this discussion, I will draw attention to a critical gap that I perceive in opera studies, whose conventional approach to scholarship resists discussing contemporary opera and music theatre: "despite impressive approaches", suggests Björn Heile, "there seems to be a lack of critical mass for a sophisticated sustained discourse to establish itself' (Heile 2006: 73).

This lack of theoretical discourse is already evident with experimental works, especially those performed outside of the opera houses, let alone with works that leave the conventional operatic stage in favour of alternative social and medial environments, such as, for example, television. In many cases, conventional musicology does not address the achievement of radical new forms, particularly if these experiments are performed outside of the ordinary, established institutions: if composers are not already well known as "serious" composers, those works are for the most part not visible on the academic agenda either. This affects contemporary works by American composers in particular.

Thus, the aim of this article is two-fold: after introducing what I call "media opera", the paper will explore the relationship of the term "opera" to its implied mediality, and the correlation between the mediality of opera as an art form and opera as a social and cultural practice. Summing up, I will propose some ideas about how media operas can serve as productive provocations for our everyday as well as scholarly understanding of opera and how they might open up a new perspective for studies in music theatre.

ON THE IMPORTANCE OF MEDIALITY, OR: WHAT MAKES THESE OPERAS PROVOCATIVE?

Opera-as with any other cultural work-does not exist in isolation from other media, nor in isolation from other social and economic forces. Thus it is a commonplace that opera and music theatre have always integrated new technological developments. Taking the recent historical dominance of the televisual into account it is no wonder that audiovisual media have had a major influence on the art form of opera. Whereas technological inventions in the past have mostly affected individual elements of the performance such as for example the orchestra or the scenography, the technological influences that are enabled by electronic media have led to developments that can fundamentally change our understanding of opera: they call into question our common understanding of this art form and at the same time oblige us to reconsider some of our familiar propositions.

According to Philip Auslander's widely-discussed publication Liveness (1999), the term "mediatised" indicates "that a particular cultural object is a product of the mass media or of media technology" (5). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Is This Still Opera? Media Operas as Productive Provocations
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    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.