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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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Scandalizing Orientalism: The Aida Productions by Hans Neuenfels (1981) and Peter Konwitschny (1994)

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ERIKA FISCHER-LICHTE

In Hans Neuenfels’ 1981 production of Aida in Frankfurt, the curtain rose at the beginning of the second act to reveal a three-storey structure of theatre boxes that filled almost the entire length and height of the stage. Seated in these boxes was the chorus, dressed as a belle époque audience reminiscent of that of the first European Aida production at the Scala in Milan in February 1872. The structure stood right behind the curtain so that the Frankfurt audience was confronted with a nineteenth-century version of itself. What they saw seemed to please them. They applauded their counterpart, which later returned the compliment by waving good-bye.

After the chorus had announced the victory of Radames and the Egyptians over the Ethiopians, the structure gradually receded to the back of the stage, creating a space for the triumphal scene to unfold. Radames sat facing the audience at a table centre-stage. With him were Amneris and Aida, a cleaning-bucket by her side. The young victors entered cheering. Their gestures partly resembled those of the athletes in Leni Riefenstahl’s film on the 1936 Olympic Games,1 but also those of the disciples of Monte Verità and of the carnival guards in nearby Mainz or Cologne. Then the human trophies – the ‘savage’ Ethiopians, dressed in loincloths – were driven onto the stage in packs, chased around in a circle by a female ring-master wielding a giant whip. The association with a circus or variety-show suggests itself here because...

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