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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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Subsequent Performances

Extract

SIR JONATHAN MILLER

I’m in the theatre and in opera entirely by accident. I never intended to do it. I never intended to be in the theatre – it was an unsolicited invitation which came when I was working in the Casualty Department doing my first surgical job. I had done bits and pieces of comic performances when I was at Cambridge and came to London twice with the Footlights and someone who had known Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett in Oxford and had known my wife at Bedales and had heard about me came. He was the person from Porlock: do you remember that, there was this wonderful person from Porlock who arrived and interrupted the writing of [Coleridge’s] ‘Kubla Khan’? Well, this is exactly what happened. I was en route to becoming a neurologist. That was my interest: I went into medicine in order to be a neurologist. I was interested in the nature of voluntary movement and its deficits as a result of brain damage. And as you can see in the course of what I’m going to say this has had a profound effect on what I do in the theatre. I maintain that what I was trained to do is to keep my eyes open and find out what people actually do – how they walk around, how they talk, how they move their hands when they talk, and so on and so forth – in ways which I shall amplify under pressure from questions.

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