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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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Loïe Fuller and Salome: The Unveiling of a Myth



Loïe Fuller was born Mary-Louise Fuller in Illinois in 1862 and from the tenderest age she began performing on stage, in genres ranging from temperance recitations to popular theatre. At the age of sixteen, she changed her name, moved to New York with her mother and brother Burt and began in earnest a career in vaudeville and burlesque. She got all sorts of jobs, including a touring production with Buffalo Bill’s The Wild West Show. From the mid-1880s she started experimenting with veil- and skirt-dances accompanied by ingenious lighting effects. In her autobiography, however, she chooses to recount the artistic epiphany that turned her into ‘the’ artiste of the Parisian fin-de-siècle: in 1891 she played a young widow hypnotized by a doctor in a play called Quack, M. D.2 Dressed in a voluminous costume of her own making, Fuller danced an interpretation of the unconscious state provoked by suggestion. Thus the ‘serpentine dance’ was born. After successes in New York, she decided to take her new act to Paris, and was immediately engaged by the Folies-Bergère, where she made her debut in October 1892. By this time, she had refined her costumes, which now included curved bamboo or aluminium wands that enabled her to shape the fabric into gigantic swirling sculptures. At the same time, coloured spotlights were projected onto the fabric, dying the silken shapes a variety of vivid colours. The audience saw not a woman but a giant violet, a butterfly,...

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