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Opera, Exoticism and Visual Culture

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Edited By Hyunseon Lee and Naomi D. Segal

As a uniquely hybrid form of artistic output, straddling music and theatre and high and popular culture, opera offers vast research possibilities not only in the field of music studies but also in the fields of media and cultural studies. Using the exotic legacy of the fin-de-siècle as its primary lens, this volume explores the shifting relationships between the multimedia genre of opera and the rapidly changing world of visual cultures. It also examines the changing aesthetics of opera in composition and performance and historical (dis)continuity, including the postcolonial era. The book comprises eleven interdisciplinary essays by scholars from eight countries, researching in music, theatre, literature, film and media studies, as well as a special contribution by opera director Sir Jonathan Miller. The book begins with an examination of operatic exoticism in various cultural contexts, such as French, Latin American and Arabic culture. The next sections focus on the most beloved figures in opera performance – Salome, Madame Butterfly and Aida – and performances of these operas through history. Further interpretations of the operas in film and new media are then considered. In the final section, Sir Jonathan Miller reflects on the ‘afterlife’ of opera.
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Caught in Transition: Exoticism in Gaspare Spontini’s Fernand Cortès

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MARIA BIRBILI

Gaspare Spontini’s Fernand Cortès (1809) is one of the first operas of the nineteenth century that deals with the exotic, an elaborate demonstration of interculturality during the age of active colonialism. Created at a particularly unstable historical moment, in the transitional period between the French Revolution and the restoration, it reflects an essentially more developed approach to the idea of exoticism and active relations between two cultures. Moreover, I consider it as the first attempt at an anthropological approach to colonialism to appear on the operatic stage. The challenges to colonialism which the political approach of this opera represented for its time are reflected in the fact that it had to be rearranged five times into four more or less different versions and therefore it expresses an extremely unclear, mixed, or at least ever-changing, aesthetic and political statement, which is reflected in each of the five different versions,1 which changed year by year, both in their structure and dramaturgy and in their location in two different cities, moving from 1809 in Paris to 1832 in Berlin. In this chapter I will concentrate on a discussion of the three first Parisian versions of the opera; my analysis will incorporate new material from the Bibliothèque Nationale and the Bibliothèque de l’Opéra in Paris.

Fernand Cortès embodies, musically as well as in its choice of subject and dramaturgy, the change of French opera from the politically charged works of the French...

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