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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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Opera is a long-established genre of musical theatre. Although it is over 400 years old, it is still alive, vital, widely loved and undergoing change, transformation and cultural transgression. It is challenging itself and adjusting to various cultural demands and historical conditions. One of the unique aspects of opera lies in the co-existence of various media within it. As a new art form created in the late sixteenth century, it united at least two media, when a group of Florentine noblemen known as the Camerata attempted to revive the power of Greek tragedy by combining music with words.

The idea of uniting music and words – in other words, musical drama – shows opera as an art form best described by the term intermediality, which stresses contact, dialogue and relationship between media. This intermedial character has, over the course of opera’s historical development, become more compulsive, and the intervention of other media has become more elaborate. Since music and theatre themselves have changed and developed within changing historical conditions, so the concept and understanding of musical theatre has changed as well. The fascinatingly complex nature of opera as a medium encourages diverse approaches both in its performance and in research upon it.

Despite this clearly hybrid character it is undeniable that opera has primarily been the object of research in musicology departments. No one would deny the priority and dominance of music in the opera or the fact that the main discipline in which...

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