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Opera, Exoticism and Visual Culture


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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The Fatal Attraction of Madame Butterfly



Fatal Attraction was a massively popular film.1 In it, the brief banal adultery of a ‘nice guy’ (Dan, played by Michael Douglas) married to a pretty, domestic wife (Beth, played by Anne Archer) leads to the extreme uncanny of the hell-hath-no-fury vengeance of female jealousy. Alex (Glenn Close), the spurned mistress, represents the ingress of the excessive feminine into the domestic space. In the closing climax it is finally the wife who kills the madwoman, after the latter has risen from the bath in which the husband had apparently drowned her. This film led to a spate of others in which two phenomena stand out: a final ‘justified’ murder that proceeds via an uncanny resurrection, and a figure conventionally positioned at the subordinate margin of the domestic space who breaks out and breaks in. The two elements hang together: like the cancerous swarms or monsters of most horror movies, this irruption of the ‘mistress [servant/policeman/plumber/nanny/flatmate] from hell’ blasts oedipal domesticity wide open, and is defeated only by a violent act on the part of the safe structure, which then closes again, doubly endorsed by its bloody happy ending. The movie – with a possible ironic reference to Repulsion – ends on a happy clinch alongside a close-up of a photograph of husband, wife and daughter in a smiling embrace (see Figure 1). ← 223 | 224 →

Figure 1.  Film still from Fatal Attraction (dir. Adrian Lyne, Paramount 1987), 01.50.48 [DVD, 2000].

Seventeen years ago...

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