Experiments in Opera Today: Conference and Symposium

Friday, April 20, 2018 - Saturday, April 21, 2018  9:30am The Heyman Center, Second Floor Common Room


Free and open to the public

No registration necessary

First come, first seated

    Event Videos
    Beyond the Opera House
    Composing and Performing
    Genres and Institutions
    Opera's Systems
    Retrospective – Robert Wilson

Over the last four decades, a wide range of musicians and composers, visual artists, and theater practitioners have taken up opera as a form ripe for experimentation. It has been conceived for serialized television broadcast, performed by robots, staged in site-specific spectacles, transformed into non-narrative installations, wedded to free improvisation, and intended (if not quite realized) as interstellar rituals. This conference and symposium considers how artists from numerous disciplines are currently working with opera now that pieces such as Meredith Monk’s Vessel (1971), Carla Bley and Paul Hanes’s Escalator Over the Hill (1969-1971), Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach (1975/6), Györgi Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre (1977), Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives (1983), Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus (1984), and Luigi Nono and Massimo Cacciari’s Prometeo (1984/5) have already grown into ‘classics’ of the avant-garde. What new approaches to narrative, voice, subject matter, media, and technology have recent creators of opera employed? Or is the emphasis on novelty particularly ill-suited to a form that, even in its most radical guise, continues to connote a host of conventions and traditions (ways of singing, a simultaneously extravagant and rarefied aesthetic, a canonical repertory, a bourgeois base, and so on)? What elements of the operatic past, then, have remained compelling or inevitable? This two-day event will convene a group of prominent scholars, composers, artists, directors, and dramaturgs in order to explore these and related questions. 


Friday, April 20: Conference
Heyman Center, 2nd Floor Common Room

*Please note that lunch is only provided for speakers at the conference.

9:30—11:00: Retrospective—Robert Wilson (Moderator: Heather Wiebe) 

David Gutkin (Peabody Institute): “Universal History, Posthistory, and Globality in Robert Wilson’s the CIVIL warS”

Arman Schwartz (King’s College London): “Opera and Objecthood, from Einstein to Klinghoffer"

11:30—1:00: Genres and Institutions (Moderator: David Gutkin)

Joy Calico (Vanderbilt University): “Chaya Czernowin's Infinite Now”

Will Robin (University of Maryland, College Park): “Opera for the 80s and Beyond, the Orchestra Residencies Program, and Institutional Experiments in American New Music in the 1980s”

2:30—4:00: Beyond the Opera House (Moderator: Arman Schwartz)

Minou Arjomand (University of Texas at Austin): “Radio Opera”

Jelena Novak (New University of Lisbon): “Opera beyond Itself: Installing the Operatic”

4:30—6:00: Reconfigurations (Moderator: Gundula Kreuzer)

Nina Sun Eidsheim (UCLA): “Opera on Voice/Voice on Opera: Afterword, an opera and ‘Accidental Meaning’”

David Levin (University of Chicago): “Yesterday’s Experiments in Opera Today”

8:00 pm, Dodge Hall 511, Lifetime Screening Room

Film: Manthia Diawara's An Opera of the World [70 minutes]


Saturday, April 21: Symposium

Heyman Center, 2nd Floor Common Room

*Please note that lunch is only provided for speakers at the conference.


10:00-12:00: Composing and Performing (Moderator: Matthew Ricketts)

Joan La Barbara (NYU)

Du Yun (Peabody Institute)

George Lewis (Columbia University)


Dodge Hall 511, Lifetime Screening Room

1:30-3:00: Keynote by Heiner Goebbels


Heyman Center, 2nd Floor Common Room

4:00-6:00: Opera’s Systems (Moderator: Lydia Goehr)

Jeanine Oleson (Parsons School of Design)

Franck Leibovici (Paris)

Yuval Sharon (The Industry, Los Angeles)

Image Credit: Photograph Stephanie Berger / Park Avenue Armory 


  • Participant

    David Levin

    Addie Clark Harding Professor, Department of Germanic Studies, Department of Cinema & Media Studies, the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies, and the College

    University of Chicago

  • Participant

    Nina Eidsheim

    Associate Dean for Career Mentoring and Opportunity, School of Music

    University of California, Los Angeles

  • Participant

    Joy Calico

    Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Musicology

    Vanderbilt University

  • Participant

    Minou Arjomand

    Assistant Professor in the Department of English

    University of Texas at Austin

  • Participant

    William Robin

    Assistant Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology

    University of Maryland

  • Participant

    Jelena Novak

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CESEM

    New University of Lisbon

  • Participant

    Joan La Barbara

    Music Composition Faculty

    Steinhardt School, New York University

  • Participant

    Franck Leibovici

    Multimedia Artist, Poet

  • Participant

    Du Yun

    Music Composition Faculty

    Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University

  • Participant

    Jeanine Oleson

    Assistant Professor of Photography

    The New School

  • Participant

    George E. Lewis

    Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music

    Columbia University

  • Participant

    Yuval Sharon

    Opera and Theatre Director

  • Keynote

    Heiner Goebbels

    Composer and Director

  • Moderator

    Lydia Goehr

    Professor of Philosophy

    Columbia University

  • Moderator

    Gundula Kreuzer

    Associate Professor of Music

    Yale University

  • Organizer

    David Gutkin

    Faculty in Musicology

    Peabody Institute

  • Organizer

    Heather Wiebe

    Senior Lecturer in Music

    King's College London

  • Organizer

    Arman Schwartz

    Lecturer in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Music

    King's College London


By Semester