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Paper Session
Nov 21, 2021 03:00 PM - 03:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211121T1500 20211121T1550 America/Chicago After Empire: Colonial Trauma on the Contemporary Operatic Stage

Although operatic performance represents one form of colonial expansion, the genre is increasingly also used as the means by which audiences are asked to confront the historical trauma inflicted by colonialism and western hegemony more broadly. In the twenty-first century, opera creators are unsettling the medium's affirmative relationship to the imperial nation and its territories in important ways. This panel investigates contemporary opera's attempts to come to terms with colonial trauma and exposes the uneasy balance between re-inscription and confrontation enacted by experimental and decolonial approaches to the form.

Taking as case studies experimental works from North America and Southern Africa, the three papers interrogate the ways in which contemporary opera makes space for traditional modes of expression, historicizing, and story-telling. In dialogue with critical frames drawn from recent work on Indigenous sonicity (Robinson 2020), anti- and decolonial theory (Mignolo 2011; Rifkin 2017), and opera and race (André 2018; Roos 2018), the panelists ask: how might we understand operatic performance informed by anti-colonial strategies, without dismissing the colonial legacy of the form? Can--and should--opera claim for itself the palliative work of naming, recognizing, and mourning the violence of empire? More specifically, what is the critical and/or affective work performed by the operatic form in representations of colonial trauma? What types of sounds, narrative devices, and spectatorial modes of presentation allow for this kind of exploration?

Part of this work involves questioning who these operas are for, and to what end. As multifarious voices and temporalities collide, the shadow of colonial violence haunts these cre ...

AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org


Although operatic performance represents one form of colonial expansion, the genre is increasingly also used as the means by which audiences are asked to confront the historical trauma inflicted by colonialism and western hegemony more broadly. In the twenty-first century, opera creators are unsettling the medium's affirmative relationship to the imperial nation and its territories in important ways. This panel investigates contemporary opera's attempts to come to terms with colonial trauma and exposes the uneasy balance between re-inscription and confrontation enacted by experimental and decolonial approaches to the form.


Taking as case studies experimental works from North America and Southern Africa, the three papers interrogate the ways in which contemporary opera makes space for traditional modes of expression, historicizing, and story-telling. In dialogue with critical frames drawn from recent work on Indigenous sonicity (Robinson 2020), anti- and decolonial theory (Mignolo 2011; Rifkin 2017), and opera and race (André 2018; Roos 2018), the panelists ask: how might we understand operatic performance informed by anti-colonial strategies, without dismissing the colonial legacy of the form? Can--and should--opera claim for itself the palliative work of naming, recognizing, and mourning the violence of empire? More specifically, what is the critical and/or affective work performed by the operatic form in representations of colonial trauma? What types of sounds, narrative devices, and spectatorial modes of presentation allow for this kind of exploration?


Part of this work involves questioning who these operas are for, and to what end. As multifarious voices and temporalities collide, the shadow of colonial violence haunts these creations and their recipients in divergent ways. We reflect on how opera's infrastructures of circulation and patronage undermine (or, conversely, support) the political and affective potential of these works, and question how opera's multiple and often conflicting generic affordances might signal differently to various settler, arrivant, and Indigenous audiences. Together, the panelists examine the uneasy relationship between contemporary experiments and operatic convention, and explore the various transformations, destabilizations, and dismantlings to which the form is subjected in a quest for ethical engagement with colonial trauma.


Opera's Colonial Ghosts and The Industry's _Sweet Land_
Session 04:00 PM - 04:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 22:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 22:50:00 UTC

"Consuming is not to do some pure erasure, but a brutal assimilation. That's the act of ghosting." Douglas Kearney, one of two librettists for the opera Sweet Land, speaks these words during a pre-performance lecture. To be colonized is to be consumed, "extracted" by an insatiable hunger (Robinson 2020). Much-needed attention has recently been given to the stories and experiences of performers and communities in genres embedded in histories of colonization, particularly those of opera (André 2018; Roos 2018; Ierihó and Avery 2019; Pistorius 2019). Relatively little critical attention, however, has been paid to the capacities of operatic creation and performance to reinscribe and/or confront colonial violence and historical trauma. I argue that Sweet Land envisioned a new definition of opera in which creators and performers had creative agency to alternately confront, deploy, and resist historical and cultural violence.


Through analysis of ethnographic accounts, I explore how Sweet Land's authors and performers navigated the violence of historical whitewashing. Produced in early 2020 by experimental opera company The Industry, Sweet Land combines site-specific performance with musical-narrative fragmentation to present a vision of western hegemony through the lens of settler-colonialism.  Composed by Du Yun and Ravon Chacon, Sweet Land problematizes two U.S- American myths: the first Thanksgiving, and westward expansion, as a way to confront audiences--and the opera industry--with the violence and erasure caused by colonization. While Sweet Land was advertised as "an opera that erases itself," I explore how ghosting, rather than erasure, was used as metaphoric and literal representation of the violence enacted by settler colonialism and white supremacy. I focus especially on the opera's use of the Wiindigo character of Anishinaabe legend as one representation of settler-colonial violence. I argue this use of ghosting exemplifies Robinson's "Indigenous+art music" practice (2020). As such, it may be read as a manifestation of Spillers's enduring "hieroglyphics of the flesh" (1987). At the same time, this reading of the Wiindigo privileges settler epistemologies and neglects other Indigenous ways of knowing. Thus, Sweet Land both constellates and resists multiple ways of constituting narratives of historical trauma.

Presenters
MS
Megan Steigerwald Ille
College-Conservatory Of Music, University Of Cincinnati
Haunting, History, and the Politics of Performance in Clement and Current's _Missing_
Session 04:00 PM - 04:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 22:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 22:50:00 UTC

The ethics and politics of re-telling history in operatic form become more fraught when the histories are those of Indigenous peoples, given the genre's long history of colonial violence (see, for example, André, Bryan, and Saylor 2012; Bloechl 2008, Karantonis and Robinson 2011; Robinson 2020). The politics of time are central to the problem, since the teleology of settler histories contradicts many Indigenous understandings of the flow of time. In this paper, I consider the recent Canadian chamber opera Missing (2017), an Indigenous-settler collaboration that emerged in a post-Truth and Reconciliation Commission context. Missing was created by Métis playwright Marie Clements and settler composer Brian Current, about the crisis concerning the countless (and growing) number of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Haunted by the present absence of these women, the opera wields performative doubling as a critical and narrative technique. The opera unfolds both in "real" places such as Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and British Columbia's infamous Highway 16, and in the realms of dreams, myth, and in other temporal spaces that are neither fully present nor past.  


Missing negotiates a temporal quandary that reveals both the syncopated nature of historical time as rendered in performance, as well as the collision of the temporal frames of Indigenous and settler histories. By examining the ways that the music, libretto, design, and direction support hauntings and doublings, I consider the complicated and subversive relationship between historical haunting and Canada's brutal erasure of Indigenous presence and tradition. In the opera, the ethics of what performance scholar Alice Rayner (2006) calls the 'imitative double' of performance are complicated and vexed by the affective dimensions of haunting, and its potentially problematic summoning of audience engagement-both Indigenous and settler. Drawing on interviews with Missing's creators and performers, and by reading and listening to Indigenous voices (Rifkin 2017; Robinson 2020; Smith 2009, etc.) in dialogue with theories of time and hauntings in performance (Rayner 2006; Roach 1996; Schneider 2014; Taylor 2003), I consider the ways this opera gestures toward the possibility of ethical remembrance.

Presenters
CR
Colleen Renihan
Queen's University
Colonial Trauma and Operatic Mourning in Kentridge and Miller's _Black Box/Chambre Noire_
Session 04:00 PM - 04:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 22:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 22:50:00 UTC

The first genocide of the twentieth century occurred not in Europe, but in the colonial outpost of German South West Africa. Between 1904 and 1908, Kaiser Wilhelm II's Imperial Army systematically massacred the Herero people of present-day Namibia in an act of annihilation regarded by historians as a direct precursor to the Holocaust (Olusoga and Erichsen 2010). This cruel spectacle of colonial bloodlust forms the basis for South African artist William Kentridge's operatic installation, Black Box/Chambre Noire (2005).


A spinoff-project based on Kentridge's 2005 production of Die Zauberflöte at Théâtre La Monnaie, Brussels, Black Box/Chambre Noire is a multimedia installation built around the artist's maquette for the full opera, merging Kentridge's dark design with an unorthodox deconstruction of Mozart's score. On the miniature stage, automated figurines perform a disembodied dance, accompanied by disfigured tunes from the opera, newly-composed material, and field recordings of Herero songs. Composer Philip Miller pits colonial abjection against the stylized finesse of Mozart's original music, as incorporeal Herero voices obey a tiny animated megaphone's injunction to conduct Trauerarbeit, or the postcolonial "work of mourning". Thus, Die Zauberflöte is reconfigured as an operatic reckoning with what Walter Mignolo (2011) calls the "dark underside" of Western modernity. Despite its radical destabilization of operatic convention, however, Black Box/Chambre Noire's appropriation of Indigenous mourning nonetheless appears to reinscribe traditional patterns of operatic representation and consumption. The installation hence raises intractable questions about the memorialization of colonial trauma on the Western stage.


This paper turns a critical ear to Black Box/Chambre Noire. Situating the piece within a growing body of work on opera and coloniality (Davies and Davies 2011; Ingraham et al 2016; André 2018), as well as recent investigations of the aesthetic politics of mourning (Bloechl 2012; Kim 2019; Robinson 2020), I disentangle Miller and Kentridge's multifarious visual and sonic intertexts, thereby to expose the uneasy and irreconcilable confrontation between opera and colonial trauma enacted on Black Box/Chambre Noire's miniature stage. I reflect on the disjuncture between postcolonial envoicement and operatic traditionalism, and ask if a newly-conceived operatic form can be entrusted with the work of mourning in the postcolony.

Presenters
JP
Juliana Pistorius
University Of Huddersfield
College-Conservatory of Music, University of Cincinnati
Queen's University
University of Huddersfield
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