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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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Daniel Catán’s Butterflies; or, The Opera House in the Jungle



From a certain angle, Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas [Florencia in the Amazon] (1996) is an opera about opera – or, more specifically, an opera about the pleasures and perils of composing Latin American operas in a globalized age.1 Commissioned from Catán by the Houston Grand Opera in conjunction with several other companies, Florencia en el Amazonas is probably the most successful Latin American opera ever written – at least since Brazil’s Carlos Gomes appeared at La Scala in the 1870s.2 Catán’s opera was premiered in Houston in October 1996 in a ← 31 | 32 → production by Francesca Zambello, which travelled to Los Angeles in 1997 and Seattle in 1998. A concert version was performed in Mexico City and Manaus, Brazil, while excerpts and an orchestral suite were played in Bogotá, Colombia. The work was revived in Houston in 2001 and Seattle in 2005, had its European premiere in Heidelberg in 2006, and received new stagings at the Cincinnati Opera in 2008 and Opera Colorado in 2012; it has also been performed at several universities in the United States.3 In an era in which new operatic commissions often fall quickly into oblivion, the performance history of Florencia en el Amazonas, as well as a recording of it released in 2002, are evidence of the presence of a living, if not flawless, example of music drama. Yet the story of Catán’s rise within the American operatic establishment has not been not devoid of...

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