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.
Image Credit: Photograph Stephanie Berger / Park Avenue Armory