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Paper Session
Nov 12, 2021 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM(America/Chicago)
20211112T1000 20211112T1050 America/Chicago Past and Present on the Theater Stage AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org
(Re)staging the Past: Documentary Opera in the Age of Post-Truth
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/12 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/12 16:50:00 UTC

In June 2020, the 70th anniversary of the execution of Czech lawyer and politician Milada Horáková was marked by an unprecedentedly visible (and audible) commemoration in the form of large-scale banners on public buildings and broadcasts through PA systems. This memorialization of Horáková, who was sentenced to death on fabricated charges in a show trial staged under Soviet supervision, spawned a debate about the interpretation of the country's Communist past. It highlighted a rift between those who foreground the totalitarian and repressive nature of the regime, and historians that seek to recognize the public's participation in its systems of power. While the former approach is often grounded in an unreflected witness perspective that lays claim to the historical "truth," the latter has been deemed "revisionist" and accused of relativizing the regime's atrocities. Both are ultimately guided by the urge to understand the many troubling continuities between the Czech political present and its past, personified by the country's prime minister Andrej Babiš.


This paper will concentrate on the documentary opera _Tomorrow Will…_ by Aleš Březina and Jiří Nekvasil produced by the Prague National Theatre in 2008, whose retelling of Horakova's trial and execution may be aligned with the witness perspective on Czech history. While it plays up the theatrical nature of the trial (and thus is falseness), it presents its own (re)staging as a "truthful" rendition of the historical events, legitimized by the use of documentary materials. I will situate my discussion of _Tomorrow Will_  in relation to recent scholarship that explores the role of theatre and opera in (re)telling history (Rokem 2000, Schneider 2001, Renihan 2020). I am primarily concerned with the question of what politics of memory the opera performs within the Czech post-Socialist context. The mistrust toward "revisionist" approaches to history may be understood as a symptom of the more general tendency to blame cultural theorists such as Bruno Latour for the rise of post-truth politics. My inquiry is guided by the larger concern with the political possibilities of documentary operas that acknowledge the contingent and situated nature of the production of (historical) knowledge.

Presenters
TH
Tereza Havelkova
Charles University, Prague
Opera as Process: Ethnography of the Corps Sonore in Marina Abramovic’s 7 Deaths of Maria Callas
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/12 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/12 16:50:00 UTC

In September 2020, after thirty years of deep admiration for Maria Callas, the performance artist Marina Abramovic dedicates an opera to the fabled soprano: _7 Deaths of Maria Callas_. The artist deconstructs the singer's sounding body, defined by Julian Johnson (2010) as the corps sonore, and uses it as the starting point for the opera. Her experience of Callas is irreversibly interwoven with technology and split in two dimensions: a drastic, audible flood and a visual remnant. Abramovic's idea of Callas' corps sonore initiates a reiteration of Carolyn Abbate's performance network (2001) in its ontology.

Drawing on Gay McAuley's (2012) rehearsal ethnography approach as well as on extensive interviews with creative team and singers, this paper pulls back the curtain of contemporary opera and sheds light on opera as process. The operatic evening itself is not meant to cover more than a fraction of Abramovic's engagement with Callas. A mere analysis of the opera's performance aesthetics in interrelation with the score-recording collage could therefore only be epistemically insufficient and nowhere near a rigorous engagement with this project.

In the rehearsal process, Abramovic replaces the score with Callas' recordings. The notion of being primarily invested in audiovisual recordings as core material seems far more familiar to studies of popular musics. In combination with techniques from long-durational performances, Abramovic not only reconfigures Callas' sounding entity but the rehearsal stage's corps sonore as well. Starting from the very beginning, the cast is made aware of the fact that the rehearsal space they are about to enter is constructed by an intermundane co-labor (Stanyek and Piekut, 2010) between Callas' voice and Abramovic's body. This invokes a deconstruction of the opera singer's role and reassembles the relationality between liveness (Auslander, 1999) and deadness (Cenciarelli, 2016), technicity (Sterne, 2016) and epistemic things (Rheinberger, 2001). The paper ends with harnessing the methodology of rehearsal ethnography as a fruitful approach to extend the scope of contemporary opera. Relating thereto, it proposes the corps sonore as an uncharted entry point for examining contemporary, mixed-media opera as an overarching process of artistic research.

Presenters
LS
Lea Luka Sikau
Cambridge University
Staging Karma. Cultural Techniques of Transformation in Burmese Musical Theatre.
Individual Paper 10:00 AM - 10:50 AM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/12 16:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/12 16:50:00 UTC

Deities (nats) in Myanmar are not only entertained in lavish rituals but they are also venerated on stage in works of musical theatre (naubein zat or opera) that date back to the nineteenth century. These works tell the dramatic stories of events which led to the sudden transformation-driven by karma-of a human person into a deity. But far from simply being retold and represented on stage, the transformations themselves are repeated, for the human actors emphatically become the deities. Such scenes of transition reveal that distinctions between human and nonhuman are not ontological givens. Fundamental distinctions such as these must be performed and depend on concrete techniques and media, by which and in which, the distinctions are fashioned.

In this talk I will analyse a scene of transformation as it occurs in today's performances on (and off) the musical theatre stages in southern Myanmar. It is the transformation of a gifted human musician, a harpist who is tragically killed only to become the deity U Shin Gyi, who thereafter is widely venerated as the Lord of Brackish Waters. His transformation centres around a technical device, namely the saung gauk, a boat-shaped harp. He carries this musical instrument with him in all scenes on the stage and it can also be found in the countless shrines up and down the coast and across the littoral lands of the Irrawaddy delta. Analysing how the relationship between harp and body shifts in the process of transformation and how the harp itself transforms will enable us to understand, how fundamental distinctions between human and nonhuman, thing and symbol, real and imaginary, are technically produced in the aesthetic milieu shared by both musical theatre and ritual.

Presenters
FR
Friedlind Riedel
Bauhaus-Universität Weimar
Bauhaus-Universität Weimar
Cambridge University
Charles University, Prague
University of Dayton
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