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

This has now been made an online conference on
Wednesday 24 June, 2020 11:00 BST to 18:00 BST

If you would like to register for log-in details to attend, please email andrew.holden@rhul.ac.uk by Tuesday 23 June.

Supported by the Institute of Musical Research, RHUL, Performance and Cultural Industries, University of Leeds and OBERTO, Oxford Brookes.

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.

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.

Provisional Programme

Welcome and Introduction – Test video, Housekeeping and Etiquette (10:45 BST)Andrew Holden and Kara McKechnie
Session 1 (11:00 to 13:15 BST)Kara McKechnie (University of Leeds) – ‘Free Kirill – Stuttgart Opera’s 2017 campaign for Serebrennikov’
 Fueanglada Prawang (Bangor University) – ‘Thai opera and a censorship drama: Sucharitkul’s Ayodhya’
 Michelle Assay (University of Huddersfield) – ‘Our wills and fates do so contrary run’: an ill-fated Georgian Hamlet Opera’
 Charlotte Armstrong (University of York) – ‘Exhibition and Erasure: Disability on the Contemporary Opera Stage’
 Alan Williams (University of Salford) – ‘The Case for Self-Censorship: the politics of representation and anti-realism in opera’
BREAK 13:15 to 15:15 
Welcome – Re-test video, welcome back, housekeeping, etiquette. (15:15)Andrew Holden and Kara McKechnie
Session 2 (15:30 to 18:00pm)Michael Walling (Opera Director) and Haili Ma (University of Leeds) – ‘Nixon in China, censorship, production and consumption’
 Haili Ma (University of Leeds) -‘ Chinese opera as a national cultural industry, the case study of Errenzhuan’
 Imani Danielle Mosley (Wichita State University) – ”I Will Always Be a Black Aida!’: Opera at the Intersection of Racism and Cancel Culture’
 Andrew Holden (Institute for Musical Research, Royal Holloway, London) – ‘Love for Three Oranges – Prokofiev’s edited adventures in America’
 Inka-Maria Nyman (University of Turku) – ‘Accessibility to opera in a minority language context in the digital age’
 Nicolò Palazzetti (University of Strasbourg) – ‘Backstage live. Opera and the obscene in the Web Age’

Postponed until 2021 – Travels in Hyperreality: medievalism and postmodern musical cultures

A joint conference organised by the School of Arts at Oxford Brookes University and REMOSS (Representations of Early Music on Stage and Screen)

It has been 37 years since Umberto Eco wrote Travels in Hyperreality. Gazing at the ‘postmodern neomedieval Manhattan new castle’ of Trump Tower, he found ‘a new feudalism’ in a ‘New Middle Ages’. Now that Trump is sovereign, Eco’s playful comparisons between saints and pop stars overspill their boundaries grotesquely. But why is the pop star so sainted? And if ‘the relationship between illuminated manuscript and cathedral is the same as that between MOMA and Hollywood’, does the tower loom as large as the soundbite?

For its fifth annual conference, the REMOSS (Representations of Early Music on Stage and Screen) study group invites proposals on the theme of ‘Travels in Hyperreality’, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between pre- and postmodern musical cultures. We aim to acknowledge medievalism’s pervasiveness in postmodern society and ask what worldviews we share with premodernity—what relationships with ambiguity, truth, reality, and excess—and how they manifest themselves in the world of sound. 

Keynote lectures will be given by Lindsay Steenberg and Bruce Holsinger.

Contributions could cover (and are not limited to):

  • pre-/postmodern ideas of reality
  • video game music and soundscape
  • contemporary opera and musical theatre
  • hyperreality in film and television music
  • medievalism, racism, and violence on stage and screen
  • historically informed performance, reconstruction, and roleplay
  • medievalist influences in compositional practice
  • the influence of medieval conceptions of gender, sexuality, body, sound, and music
  • pre-/postmodern ideas of reality

Our conception of ‘early music’ is a broad one, including the use, or re-use, of ‘real’ early music in contexts new and old. As ever, the conference will be live-streamed, and we welcome both speakers and delegates to attend digitally. All proposals and contributions will be considered.

If you have any questions about the conference, feel free to contact any of the organisers, particularly George Haggett, george.haggett@magd.ox.ac.uk .

Programme committee:

James Cook (University of Edinburgh)

George Haggett (Magdalen College Oxford)

Alexander Kolassa (Open University)

Leander Reeves (Oxford Brookes University)

Adam Whittacker (Royal Birmingham Conservatoire)

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