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Paper Session
Nov 21, 2021 05:00 PM - 05:50 PM(America/Chicago)
20211121T1700 20211121T1750 America/Chicago Sexuality and Gender in Contemporary Opera AMS 2021 ams@amsmusicology.org
"Meeting My Own Eyes": Analyzing the Sound of Thought in Zesses Seglias's Opera _To the Lighthouse_
Individual Paper 05:00 PM - 05:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 23:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 23:50:00 UTC

E.M. Forster described Virginia Woolf's 1927 novel To the Lighthouse as "a novel in sonata form," but the beloved volume clearly has the emotional depth and magnetic pull of a work meant for the stage. And while Woolf herself took great inspiration from classical music (she wrote in a 1940 letter: "I think of all my books as music before I write them..."), reverse engineering the process is a bit trickier. Her writings have wielded great influence on artists of all mediums; however, they are difficult to translate into functional and successful musical forms given the challenge of sonically manifesting both the subconscious mind and the gender-centric, intricate, and often unspoken balance of human relationships upon which her stories draw their strength.

Greek composer Zesses Seglias is attracted to literary minds and texts concerned with exactly that: the fragile power that our subtle gestures, thoughts and half-spoken words have on how we move and function in the world, and in our own skins. Seglias's To the Lighthouse, which premiered at the Bregenz Festival in 2017, employs what are now considered standard extended vocal techniques among singers--techniques which fluently combine singing, speaking, and noise that in turn illuminate and reflect Woolf's literary and psychological approach to storytelling in a way that traditional classical singing never could.

In this paper, I argue that Seglias's interpretation of To the Lighthouse is the first stage and musical interpretation which captures the revolutionary current, dramatic atmosphere, and complex human element of Woolf's original work. The imaginative use of contemporary vocal techniques (in combination with both sensitive amplification and delicate orchestration) expand upon and echo the literary innovations of Woolf. Most notably, these techniques aid in the depiction of the major female characters as fully realized individuals, in harmony with Woolf's well-documented resistance to and rebellion against the expectations for women at that time. This paper relies heavily on primary source materials, including interviews with the composer and performers, as well as firsthand knowledge of the composition and production process thanks to my own experience developing and premiering the leading role of Mrs. Ramsay.

Presenters
CF
Christie Finn
The Hampsong Foundation & The University Of Michigan, School Of Music, Theatre, & Dance
Dreams and Deliria: Unsuk Chin’s _Alice in Wonderland_ and its Operatic Lineage
Individual Paper 05:00 PM - 05:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 23:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 23:50:00 UTC

This paper situates Unsuk Chin's 2007 _Alice in Wonderland_ within an operatic lineage originating in the 19th-century mad scene. Donizetti, Bellini, Meyerbeer, and Thomas established musical quotation as a marker of psychosis, subjecting characters to auditory hallucinations in the form of reminiscence motives associated with earlier events. As Susan McClary and Mary Ann Smart argue, these exploitative depictions nevertheless allow repressed female characters to break free of patriarchal oppression and the restraints of conventional aria form. Such an ambiguous attitude toward mental illness anticipates the surrealist movement's veneration of schizophrenic "outsider artists," whose detachment from reality was thought to put them in closer contact with the subconscious. Beginning in the 1920s, dreams and visions became the central dramaturgical conceit for a subset of surrealist operas. Composers again simulated altered states of consciousness through musical reference, now in the form of collages cobbled from "old music-hall songs…glued with the stinking adhesive of softened opera potpourris," as Adorno put it.


Extending this lineage into the present, Chin substitutes Freudian dream logic for musical/narrative linearity in her "Mad Tea Party" scene, a patchwork of baroque recitative, nursery songs, freestyle rap, pitch-scrambling anagrams, ticking clocks, and (most tellingly) an allusion to the mad scene from _Boris Godunov_. While collage as a compositional technique has typically been associated with postmodernism, I argue that Chin's use is indebted to surrealism and its discourses surrounding Carroll. Interpolated texts in David Henry Hwang's libretto recast the heroine as a pubescent _femme-enfant_-a sexualized "woman-child" archetype whose objectification in surrealist literature uncomfortably echoes the (unfounded) rumors of Carroll's pedophilia. However, Chin and Hwang subvert this trope by inverting the traditional mad scene dynamic and its offshoots, notably the surrealist operas of Korngold and Martinů. Alice remains sane, struggling to maintain her identity against the predatory madmen of Wonderland and their corrupting nonsense logic, which takes musical form in the fractured sonic dreamscapes of Chin's score. Alice's climactic self-assertion emerges as a potent symbol for the South Korean composer's professed aesthetic autonomy from the German new-music establishment and her resistance to racialized and gendered expectations.

Presenters
JC
Joseph Cadagin
University Of Toronto
Performing Ophelia's Pain: The Ethics of Women's Trauma on the 21st-Century Opera Stage
Individual Paper 05:00 PM - 05:50 PM (America/Chicago) 2021/11/21 23:00:00 UTC - 2021/11/21 23:50:00 UTC

Although Ophelia appears only sporadically in Shakespeare's _Hamlet_, her suffering and madness have fascinated countless artists, composers, performers, and even medical doctors from the sixteenth century to the present day. I analyze 21st-century productions of two operas that feature Ophelia's madness to consider how distinct sounds and performances engage historical and current ideas about women's trauma. I investigate how operatic performance can address the character's trauma in a way that satisfies collective responsibilities to engage female characters and their madness fairly and fully. In the first opera I discuss, Ambroise Thomas's opera _Hamlet_ (1868), Ophelia's lengthy and vocally explosive mad scene resonates with nineteenth-century understandings of hysteria, presenting an idealized, feminine, and palatable madness that dominated the work's reception in the years after its premiere. But some recent productions of Thomas's opera, such as the 2010 version by Patrice Caurier and Moshe Leiser, have turned the flowery mad scene into a dark exploration of Ophelia's inability to process her trauma, treating the character's pain seriously even as the beauty of nineteenth-century French music reverberates throughout the scene.

The second opera I discuss is Brett Dean's 2017 _Hamlet_, which presents an extreme contrast to Thomas's. Dean's Ophelia, premiered by Barbara Hannigan at Glyndebourne Festival, sounds her suffering through angular, atonal vocalizations and obsessive text repetitions that demonstrate her inability to escape traumatic memories. But her manic sexual exhibitions and deranged behavior transform the scene into a spectacle that encourages voyeurism. I analyze Hannigan's performance and Dean's music to argue that, although the composer has access to a musical style suited to expressing trauma, the scene turns Ophelia's pain into a disturbing display evocative of nineteenth-century perceptions of female madness. By considering recent performances of both Thomas's and Dean's operas, I show that music _and_ performance can play key roles in whether operatic renditions of trauma create space for empathy and witness-bearing or resort to voyeurism, suggesting that ethics surrounding the staging of pain are at stake even in performances based on fiction.


Presenters
MD
Molly Doran
Wartburg College
The Hampsong Foundation & The University of Michigan, School of Music, Theatre, & Dance
University of Toronto
Wartburg College
 Marcus Pyle
Davidson College
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