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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.

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