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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, Oxford Brookes and an Early Career Fellowship from the Institute for Musical Research.

Call for Papers – deadline Friday 29 November 2019

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

University of Leeds, Wednesday 5 February 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-2015@brookes.ac.uk/andrew.holden@rhul.ac.uk by Friday 29 November.

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-2015@brookes.ac.uk / andrew.holden@rhul.ac.uk