Home » 2019

Yearly Archives: 2019

CFP: ‘Don’t mention the C Word’ – re-assessing the meaning and impact of censorship in opera

Former Brookes doctoral student, Dr Andrew Holden is organising the following conference hosted by the University of Leeds, supported by OBERTO, RHUL, Oxford Brookes and an Early Career Fellowship from the Institute for Musical Research.

Call for Papers – deadline Friday 13 March 2020.

‘Don’t mention the C Word’
– re-assessing the meaning and impact of censorship in opera

University of Leeds, Thursday 11 June 2020

At its 2015 conference in Madrid, Opera Europa, the main European industry network, heard from opera producers in Perm, Russia about the threat they face from renewed political oppression. Alexander Pereira, then Artistic Director of Teatro alla Scala, Milan, told the conference “there is no future without solidarity”. But solidarity with whom, and against what? This conference will explore a new understanding of opera’s regulation in a world in which binary poles between freedom of expression and censorship in opera have broken down.

The opera business model in its mature markets has been undermined by shrinking public grants and become more reliant on philanthropy. As opera ecologies expand in regions like East Asia and the Middle East, gender norms, sexuality and violence, cultural habits like smoking and tattoos, and the visual representation of naked flesh, are policed in highly individual contexts. Performance tradition and power structures in opera are also being breached by more collaborative approaches to production and community opera, as well as performer and audience activism based on gender, ethnicity and disability. These trends challenge existing concepts of censorship, in which a range of participants have agency in processes which may mimic regulatory control, but in pursuit of diversity and against cultural appropriation, for example ethnocentric operatic tropes such as ‘blackface’ Otellos and ‘yellowface’ orientalism. Many of these trends encourage risk aversion and self-censorship.

The boundaries between taste, market forces, local cultural contexts and artistic freedom have always been shadowy. This one-day conference will address the pressing need for a more nuanced articulation of how censorship is operating in the global market for opera.

Potential Conference Themes:

  • Theoretical concepts and expanded definitions of censorship
  • Legacies of censorship.
  • What is being censored in opera – text, music, characterisation, staging, space, reception.
  • Processes of adaptation
  • Censorship of opera in relation to other art forms.
  • Local, regional, national conventions, transnational circulation, globalisation.
  • Emerging markets – artistic, cultural, religious, political contexts.
  • Opera business models and their impact on artistic expression – state and private funding, co-production and hires.
  • Evolving sub-genres of opera – eg. community opera, site-specific opera.
  • Agency and power dynamics within opera production.
  • Broadcasting, digital criticism, social media, audience activism.
  • Rhetorics of censorship including cultural sensitivity and exchange, diplomacy, marketing

Abstracts for 20-minute papers (max 300 words) and short biographies (max 150 words) should be sent to andrew.holden@rhul.ac.uk by Friday 13 March 2020.

Interdisciplinary approaches, and paper proposals from early career researchers and opera practitioners are particularly welcome.

The conference is hosted jointly by the School of Performance and Cultural Industries and the School of Music, also supported by OBERTO at Oxford Brookes University.

The conference will be free to attend. A small number of travel and accommodation bursaries, generously provided by the Institute of Musical Research, will be available to doctoral candidates, and early career researchers.

For any additional information contact Andrew Holden: andrew.holden@rhul.ac.uk

OBERTO Conference 2019: The Canon Reloaded? Operatic Repertoire in the Twenty-First Century

The 2019 OBERTO conference will take place at Oxford Brookes University on Tuesday, 10 September 2019. A day of presentations and panels, featuring opera scholars as well as opera industry professionals, will explore how opera houses and opera audiences create repertoires, and whether and how the operatic canon needs to be refreshed for the twenty-first century.

9am Registration
9.45am Welcome
10am Session 1: Foundations

Mike Gibb (Founder of Operabase): New Opera in the 21st Century – A Guided

Cormac Newark (Guildhall School of Music and Drama): The Oxford Handbook of the Operatic Canon

11am Coffee break
11.30am Session 2: Interventions

Leo Doulton (director and librettist): Frankenstein’s Donster: Reinventing Don
Giovanni with the Arcola Queer Collective

Andrew Holden (Oxford Brookes University / Turin): Don’t Mention the ‘C’
Word – Negotiating and Confronting the Transnational Circulation of Opera

Imani Danielle Mosley (Wichita State University): ‘The Positives Outweigh the
Negatives’: Performing Opera in the Age of Social Justice and Social Media

1pm Lunch
2pm Session 3: Institutions and Orthodoxies

Adriana Festeu (Royal Academy of Music): Programming Operatic Repertoire
for Young Singers

Sid Wolters-Tiedge (Forschungsintitut für Musiktheater, University of
Bayreuth): ‘Verachtet mir die Meister nicht’: Directing the Operatic Canon as
Institutional Practice in Germany

Alexandra Wilson (Oxford Brookes University): Dead White Men and the Spectre of Elitism

3.30pm Tea break
4pm Session 4: Marginalia?

Jeremy Gray (Bampton Classical Opera): Footnote Operas: Probing the
Marginalia of Classical Opera

Alexandra Monchick (California State University, Northridge): Outside the
Operatic Canon after #MeToo

5pm Panel Discussion

with Benedict Nelson (baritone), Brian Robins (Early Music World), Jane-Eve
Straughton (English Touring Opera), Michael Volpe (Opera Holland Park)

The conference takes place in Headington Hill Hall, on the Headington Hill Campus. Directions can be found here: https://www.brookes.ac.uk/about-brookes/contacts-maps-and-campuses/headington-campus/

The conference is free, and lunch, tea and coffee will be provided. Please register if you plan to attend by emailing tde-oberto@brookes.ac.uk  before 1 September 2019, and include any dietary preferences.

2019 OBERTO conference – CFP deadline extended

The topic for this year’s OBERTO  conference is “The Canon Reloaded? Operatic Repertoire in the Twenty-First Century”.  Please see The 2019 OBERTO Conference – CFP for more details.  The CFP deadline has been extended to Friday, 28 June, 2019.  Please send abstracts of 250 words or queries to oberto@brookes.ac.uk .

The conference will take place at Oxford Brookes University on Tuesday, 10 September 2019.

The 2019 OBERTO Conference – CFP

The Canon Reloaded?
Operatic Repertoire in the Twenty-First Century


The 2019 OBERTO conference will take place at Oxford Brookes University on Tuesday, 10 September 2019. The topic this year is “The Canon Reloaded? Operatic Repertoire in the Twenty-First Century”.


In 1932, A. H. Fox-Strangways, editor of the journal Music & Letters, wrote: ‘At the sound of the word “opera” a good many are repelled because they think at once of Faust and Aida only’. Every age has its operatic warhorses, and although these change periodically over time – Faust is no longer as ubiquitous as it was when George Bernard-Shaw claimed to have heard it around 90 times in a decade – the centrality of certain key works to the operatic canon remains largely unchallenged.

Musicologists have been discussing the mechanics and the politics of the musical canon since the 1990s. This might seem, on the face of it, like one of those New Musicology debates that are now rather dated. In reality, the debate is as alive as ever, except that is now more likely to be taking place on Twitter and other social media, and grabbing headlines in the daily press. Discussions rage about whether familiar works should be sidelined, or even jettisoned, in favour of more contemporary and neglected works from the past. The debate has become entwined with political activism to a pronounced degree, with some commentators calling for opera companies to “redress historical wrongs” by staging certain quotas of operas by female or BME composers. Censorship hovers at the fringes of the conversation, with some even advocating for repertory operas that offend present-day political sensibilities to be banned.

This conference, organised by the OBERTO opera research group at Oxford Brookes University, aims to explore the arguments for and against maintaining, refreshing or discarding the operatic canon and will consider implications for operatic creators, performers and audiences.

Possible topics include, but are by no means restricted to:

  • Rejuvenating the canon and the limitations of the current performing repertory
  • The economics of programming opera and other harsh realities
  • Are some operas simply better than others? The taboo subject of ‘quality’ in classical music
  • ‘Righting historical wrongs’: questions of gender and race
  • The opera house as a museum of musical works
  • Innovative stagings of standard repertory: merely tinkering around the edges?
  • National canons and transnational difference
  • Exporting operatic canons and the question of imperialism
  • Operatic criticism before the “age of political correctness” and now
  • Differences of perspective between academia, the opera industry, and different audiences

We invite proposals for 20-minute presentations, panel discussions and alternative format sessions such as lecture-recitals or poster presentations. We welcome contributions not only from academics but also from performers and opera industry or media professionals. Past OBERTO conferences have facilitated lively debates between academics, practitioners and members of the general public, and we would like to continue this tradition.

Please send abstracts of 250 words or queries to oberto@brookes.ac.uk by Friday 28 June 2019.

OBERTO Post Graduate Research Conference, 2019

Headington Hall, Oxford Brookes University

Friday 7th June 2019

The conference takes place in Headington Hill Hall, on the Headington Hill Campus. Directions can be found here: https://www.brookes.ac.uk/about-brookes/contacts-maps-and-campuses/headington-campus/

The conference is free and lunch and tea and coffee are provided. Please register if you plan to attend by emailing tde-oberto@brookes.ac.uk  and include any dietary preferences.

Provisional Programme

10-11.30 Session 1: Masculinity

Sophie Horrocks (Durham University): “Mon père! J’ai peur!” Fatherhood and the construction of male identity in Halévy’s La Juive (1835)

Matthew Palfreyman (University of Leeds): Vengeful Passions: the performance of masculinity in Leoncavallo’s I Pagliacci

Kerry Bunkhall (Oxford Brookes University): Opera, or the Undoing of Men? Representation of men in opera through the lens of feminist critique

11.30-12: Coffee

12-1: Keynote

Prof. Dr. Arnold Jacobshagen (Hochschule für Musik und Tanz Cologne / Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Christ’s College Cambridge): The obituary as a benchmark of canonization. (Trans-) national narratives on Rossini and his music

1-2: Lunch

2-3 Session 2:

2a: Wagner

Bradley Hoover (University of Oxford): François Delsarte’s influence on Wagnerian aesthetics

Christopher Kimbel (Royal Holloway): The politics of ‘Bar’-form in Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg

2b: Millennial opera(s)

Jane Forner (Columbia University): ‘Feminism is Humanism:’ religion and violence against women in Cecilie Ore’s Adam and Eve: A Divine Comedy (2015)

Fueanglada Prawang (Bangor University): Thai Opera in performance: contexts and challenges

3-3.30: Coffee

3.30-5 Session 3:

3a: Law and Order

Annabelle Page (University of Oxford): Patronage in absentia: Marcus Sitticus and the music of Monteverdi

Giovanna Carugno (Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music): The ownership of operas in early 19th-century Italy: questions and (possible) answers for the musicologist

Patrick Becker (Universität der Künste Berlin): Fair and court: excluding economy and vilifying Power in Bulgarian operas during state Socialism

3b: Centres and Peripheries

Emma Kavanagh (University of Oxford): Éduoard Lalo’s exotic Brittany: the case of Le Roi d’Ys

Emese Lengyel (University of Debrecen): Folklore patterns, national identity and genre hybridisation in the case of 20th-century Hungarian comic operas

Mahima Macchione (Oxford Brookes University): The ‘global’ reception of Puccini’s Il Trittico (1918) and the operatic culture of the post-war period


5pm: Panel TBC

CFP: Postgraduate Research Conference, 2019

Oxford Brookes University

Friday 7th June 2019


OBERTO, the opera research unit at Oxford Brookes University, is delighted to announce its second dedicated postgraduate conference, aimed at providing students with a platform for presenting their research.

We invite proposals from both UK-based and international speakers with an interest in opera. 20-minute presentations on all facets of opera studies are welcome, including but not limited to the following areas:

  • opera production, performance and reception
  • opera and politics
  • opera and gender
  • opera and identity
  • iconography and visual representation of opera
  • singers
  • musical analysis
  • historiography

The day is designed to be supportive and inclusive, with opportunities for students to meet fellow researchers. Proposals from both Master’s and Doctoral students are encouraged.

There will also be a roundtable discussion concerning academia and public engagement, with advice for postgraduate students on building a public profile, and a summary of the research opportunities and events offered by OBERTO.

Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be sent by email to tde-oberto@brookes.ac.uk in Word document format. Please include your name, email address, institutional affiliation (if applicable), and details of any audio-visual requirements.

The deadline for receipt of proposals is 9am on Friday 26th April.

Opera in the Jazz Age

Professor Alexandra Wilson


Think opera is highbrow? Think again. In my new book, Opera in the Jazz Age: Cultural Politics in 1920s Britain (Oxford University Press), I investigate the place of opera in the 1920s ‘battle of the brows’, a heated debate about whether various forms of art should be bookpiccategorised as highbrow, middlebrow, or lowbrow. It was a debate prompted, in essence, by the threat posed to traditional forms of culture and audience patterns by an explosion in popular culture and a shift in class structures after the First World War. In the course of my research, I discovered that opera’s place within discussions about the brows – which still have implications for how we think about the arts today – was far from straightforward.

I found that opera interacted in fluid ways with many forms of popular culture during the interwar period, including film and jazz. Opera singers were bona fide celebrities whom audiences camped out overnight to hear, their every move documented in the pages of the popular press. Opera was performed in many types of venue in the 1920s – music halls, cinemas, and restaurants as well as theatres – and popular with many different types of listener. Touring opera companies performed to socially mixed audiences in the industrial cities of the north and there was a particularly keen following for opera in the East End of London.

For all of these reasons and more, opera proved extremely difficult to pigeonhole. For some commentators of the time, it was too highbrow; for others, it was not highbrow enough. Opera proved in some ways uncategorisable, although interacted with the emerging middlebrow culture in intriguing ways.

There are many similarities between the operatic culture of the 1920s and that of today, but there are also important differences. Undercurrents of snobbery from above and suspicion from below swirled around opera in 1920s Britain, and yet it is equally important to recognise that there were also many sincere grassroots attempts to get more people listening to it and to educate people about it. There was, without doubt, more of a sense that opera was something that anyone could enjoy and could access, if they chose to take an interest. The term ‘elitism’ is one I never came across during my research into 1920s attitudes. Thus, my next project, funded by a Major Research Fellowship from the Leverhulme Trust, will investigate how attitudes towards opera have changed over the period from the end of the 1920s to the present, pinning down exactly when the ‘elitism’ tag began to be used. If we want to combat unhelpful stereotypes it is necessary, first, to understand their roots.

Opera in the Jazz Age can be found here: https://global.oup.com/academic/product/opera-in-the-jazz-age-9780190912666?cc=gb&lang=en&

You can listen to me talking about the book on BBC Radio 3’s Music Matters in an episode first broadcast on 12 January: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0001zph (from around 21 minutes in).

And a documentary I made for BBC Radio 3 about operatic culture in 1920s London can be accessed here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b099vsvw