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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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Performing the Icon: The Body on Stage and the Staged Body in Salome’s ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’

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HEDDA HØGÅSEN-HALLESBY

Salome is iconic. She is first of all an icon in western visual culture, in the many depictions of her holding or kissing the Baptist’s severed head in various positions, as represented either in the vivid pictures of Gustave Moreau or in the refined black-and-white lines of Aubrey Beardsley. Yet her iconic status goes beyond physical images. She is described in the texts of Heinrich Heine and Gustave Flaubert as well as Joris-Karl Huysmans, whose narrator, Jean des Esseintes calls her ‘l’innocente et dangereuse idole’ [the innocent and deadly idol].1 Salome has become the mother of all bad girls, the prototype of the dancing vamp, the spoiled child and the fruit of demoralized family relations. As the perfect femme fatale, she is a textbook example of the typical motifs of fin-de-siècle Europe. Reiterations of her story incorporate taboos and transgressions, the fascination of hysteria and of the female body. Salome has come to demonstrate what western culture anxiously has to control: women, children, bodies, sexuality and the orient. ← 179 | 180 →

On the one hand, this mythic figure is a symbol, a representation and an image of diverse meanings from different contexts that have objectified her, petrified her into some sort of fixed reference. Looking at the production history, but also the reception history of Richard Strauss’s operatic version of the Judean princess, this tendency is confirmed: she is presented and discussed as an image of something, depending on the theory...

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