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Paper Session
Nov 20, 2021 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211120T1400 20211120T1450 America/Chicago Modern Opera and Empire AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org
Anti-Colonization, Art Music, and Against the Grain Theatre’s Messiah/Complex
Individual Paper 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 20:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 20:50:00 UTC

The pandemic and Black Lives Matter have given the classical music industry a long overdue wake-up call about the failure of prior diversification efforts. As Jenkins (2021) has argued, true change needs to involve aesthetic change, not just some token singers of colour. This paper focuses on Messiah/Complex (2020) by Toronto's Against the Grain Theatre, not because it is a terribly successful attempt to rethink the aesthetics of classical music but because of its shortcomings. Joel Ivany and Reneltta Arluk aimed to create a Messiah that reflects the diversity of Canada in 2020. All soloists were Indigenous or people of colour. Several work outside of Western classical music. Collaborations between artists trained in Western and Indigenous art forms have become commonplace since Canada's Multiculturalism Act (1988). In his study of such collaborations, Robinson (2020) observes that even the "best intentions of integration continue to reinforce and maintain the hierarchal dominance of art music as the genre to which other music must conform."

Through interviews with the artists, this paper critically examines the power dynamics at play in Messiah/Complex. In contrast to "director's opera," the singers took the lead, deciding the language and interpretive frame for their performances. For example, singer-songwriter Leela Gilday rewrote the lyrics of "I Know that My Redeemer Liveth" to reflect Dene spirituality. However, unlike Marin Alsop's Too Hot to Handel: The Gospel Messiah (1993) or Soundstreams's Electric Messiah (2020), she was not invited to adapt Handel's score. Several Indigenous participants mentioned that the Messiah called to mind the cultural genocide of residential schools. Yet, they were offered no opportunities to gather on their own to discuss their feelings about the piece and how it could be a vehicle for Indigenous resurgence today. This paper raises concerns that the success of productions like Messiah/Complex will lead to complacency about the future of classical music rather than the radical rethinking that needs to happen for the industry to survive and become more equitable. Reflecting on the limitations of Messiah/Complex, this paper offers suggestions about how art music could engage in genuinely anti-colonial work.

Presenters
NP
Nina Penner
Brock University
Realizing Riel: Opera, Television, and the Quest for Realism
Individual Paper 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 20:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 20:50:00 UTC

Over fifty years after its 1967 premiere, Harry Somers's _Louis Riel_ remains a problematic opera. Commissioned for Canada's centennial, it tells the story of the Métis leader who spearheaded an Indigenous resistance against the westward expansion of the Canadian government. But the representation of Indigenous people and music - including the appropriation of a Nisga'a lullaby - within a Euro-centric opera risks re-inscribing colonial narratives (Lee, Hutcheon and Clark). Scholars have tended to try to "solve" the problem of _Riel_ by suggesting that it speak to current realities in its staging (Danckert, Simonot-Maiello). Directors have followed: the 2017 Canadian Opera Company revival sought to update the opera and make it more realistic, particularly by featuring more Indigenous performers, incorporating "authentic" artistic practices and languages, and referring to ongoing inequities (Renihan, Hinton). Such efforts have garnered a mixed critical response - some scholars have noted that much of the score remained untouched (Koval and Dubois) - but what has received less attention is how such attempts to realize _Riel_ in a more contemporary vein have long been part of the opera's history and appeal. Indeed, this paper argues that _Riel_ is a problematic opera precisely because its portrayal of the past has always been an intervention into present-day realities.

The locus of my study is the 1969 CBC television production. Adapted from the stage premiere two years earlier, this TV production was praised by critics for offering a more "realistic" portrayal of _Riel_, but my paper shows how such "realism" served the network's project of mythologizing Canada's roots. In particular, I trace how the CBC drew upon "documentary-style" realism, as seen in its historical documentaries and docu-dramas, to connect the opera's portrayal of the past to present-day tensions between majority and minority groups. By weaving together archival photographs, journalistic features and political commentary, the production sought to make this operatic history feel current. Ultimately, this paper questions to what ends "realism" is put - and shows how the aesthetics of "historical productions" remain firmly wedded to the present.  

Presenters
DW
Danielle Ward-Griffin
Rice University
Soviet Feminism, Kazakh Resistance, and Musical Modernism in Gaziza Zhubanova's Operas
Individual Paper 02:00 PM - 02:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/20 20:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/20 20:50:00 UTC

In 1975, a Soviet music critic proclaimed in the _Sovetskaia muzyka_, "If I were asked whose portrait should be painted to symbolize our era […], I would without hesitation name Gaziza Zhubanova among musicians." Zhubanova (1927–1993) was the first Kazakh composer whose operas were performed in Moscow and the first woman composer who received the prestigious People's Artist of the USSR award. Additionally, she served as the head of the Kazakh Union of Composers, the Dean of the Almaty Conservatory, and the governing member of the Committee of the Soviet Women. Despite her preeminent role as a prolific composer, cultural leader, and social activist, her legacy remains virtually unexplored in English-language scholarship. This paper places Zhubanova on center stage, tracing the turbulent relationship between Soviet feminism, national resistance, and musical style.

The Soviet leaders viewed the movement for women's emancipation-especially in Islamic contexts like Kazakhstan-as a quintessential marker of modernization. Similarly, they treated the creation of national operas for each republic as an epitome of socialist cultural revolution. As Zhubanova navigated the post-1960s male-dominated musical world of Almaty, she remained an agent of the Soviet state through her bureaucratic involvement in Kazakh musical life. Her compositions and writings, however, challenged the state's homogenization of ethnic music that resulted from its appropriation into Western art forms such as opera. The plurality of styles in Zhubanova's operas embodies her negotiation between two cultural-political imperatives: remaining an abiding Soviet citizen and promoting Kazakh identity.

Analyzing two of Zhubanova's operas-_Enlik Kebek(1975) and _The Steppe Edyge_ (1991)-I inquire into how gender shaped the limits and possibilities of modernization in unexpected ways. I trace Zhubanova's integration of folk song and modernist musical language into narratives about women's role during the anti-colonial struggle. In both works, I argue, Zhubanova resists the state's discriminatory minority policies through employing a distinctly anti-socialist vision of feminism that refused to erase gender norms prevalent in pre-Soviet Kazakh traditions. Exploring Zhubanova as an exemplary "liberated" woman offers a window into the rising Kazakh resistance leading up to the dissolution of the USSR.

Presenters
KA
Knar Abrahamyan
Yale University
Rice University
Yale University
Brock University
University of Huddersfield
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