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thesis – talks & initial research

from last tuesday to today i was focused in talking with people, doing some theoretical research over my theme (so research regarding opera, gender in opera, female identity), watching & listening to Opera.

Talks

  • Grace Jun
    Grace is a professor at Parson’s Design and Technology MFA and she runs a research program during summer at MIT focused on assistive fashionable technology (Open Style Lab). Last Spring I went to a workshop she hosted about shape changing materials and I thought it would be interesting to get a perspective on empowerment through assistive wearable technology. I went to have coffee with her full of questions regarding wearables and empowerment but what it ended up being was an informal conversation about the evolution of the female identity, what is the role that women play in history and how this has changed – and how that reflected in fashion. What it means a female identity evolves with time and she exemplified with the silhouette example: how it is constantly changing, how accessible it is and what are the constrains that it creates.
  • Marina Zurkov
    Professor at ITP,  artist and activist. As we talked, she approach different perspectives over identity & the archetype of a “wild woman”. From origin of it within greek mithology -specially Dionisius and Chthonic -, studies about the sexual personae, the hysteric, angry woman to contemporary feminist art reference, she mentioned a lot of works I should take a look to understand who is this woman that I’m talking about and what is the perception of her during History. I’m looking into the readings she recommended me
  • Andrew Lazarow
    Professor at ITP, works with the intersection between emerging technologies and live performance. Andrew gave me a lot of context information regarding opera (you can check here): Operas that have strong female characters, the contemporary aesthetic pressure for female opera singers, operas composed by women, the gender gap within this art as well as referenced people that will be interesting to talk to etc. a lot of the material mentioned was and will be investigated.
  • Christin Pettibonne
    Scholar at Universita di Milano and Met Opera Volunteer Staff. She is now finishing her masters regarding how youth curriculum are being developed and implemented at La Scala in Milan, in comparison to the Met Opera. She has done lectures at The Met Opera about their productions and is one of the responsible people for the youth curriculum design & practice. As we talked, she mentioned interesting aspects of the mad women in Opera and the famous mad scenes; she also mentioned a few parallels made between the characters and the composer’s personal life (ie. Donizetti had their female characters going mad as a reflection of his own mental issues). Also gave a lot of paper references that approaches the gender issue within Opera storyline.

Readings

  • Opera: the basics
    Brief history of opera
    Denise Gallo tells a brief history of Opera as well as explain certain aspects that are general of the genre and specific of the types of Opera or the time in which they were created.
    Opera was born as the ultimate artistic expression of the Baroque culture due to the fact that it is the union of music, poetry, art & dance. We are currently in the Post-Modern moment of this art, in which the work created since 1970 challenges composers towards cultural authority, who often implement and explore non-Western musical traditions. For Opera, it is more relevant the time when it was created rather than the style period. Opera was born as the language of a vocal text. In the spirit of the Renassaince, groups of people that were part of the academics saw Greek drama (that were sung instead of spoken) as an inspiration for a new type of art. They called it opere per musica (stage works set to music), shortened to opera, to differenciate it from spoken drama (dramae per musica).
    Opera as a society reflection
    Gallo expands her introduction to Opera by pointing that Opera and its evolution is a production / reflection of Society. It first appears through noble patronage to then go to the public sphere – but always to reinforce power. With the influence of Religion & Estate, a lot of the periodicity of Opera seasons as well as its content (the librettos) were shaped according to the interest of thos who sponsored/supported it. At first, those who attended the opera in the seventeenth century barely paid attention to the Opera itself. Going to the Opera was a social event, to see and to be seen. In the nineteenth century that the audience started paying attention to the opera itself.
  • Through the Lens of a Baroque Opera: Gender/Sexuality Then and Now
    Ryan Koons article is about the castrati role in the 1700s and how there is a pursuit to reimagine them in contemporary productions. The castrati were men that had their testicles removed so that they wouldn’t go through puberty hormonal changes and have their voices affected. Since then, castration has been widely prohibited. Reacting Operas that have the castrato role is a reimagination exercise in which you also put a lot of thought on what it is to rethink gender identification on stage. As Judith Butler’s idea of gender as a performance, the opera singer that takes the originally casted for castrati singers find themlseves in a paradoxal performatic place, in which women will play male characters, men will play female characters, characters that might not follow heteronormative behaviour etc. While talking about the solution arrived for the castrati role in Giulo Cesare‘s 2005 Met Opera production, Koons observes the following (which I finding very interesting):

    “Although both male and female voices are capable of realizing a plethora of high and low pitches, gender norms are challenged when a woman sings very low and particularly strange when a man sings very high. Contemporary Euro-American cultures by and large construct masculinity as characterized by a lower vocal register. Deviation from this expectation is cause for surprise. Therefore, while both Christophe Dumaux and Rachid Ben Abdeslam augment their performances with stereotypically feminine and campy choreographies and costumes, the heart of the perceived effeminacy of their characters lies in their tessitura.[…] Creating the character with stereotypically gay choreographic timbers merely augments what the voice began.”

Operas

  • Lulu (Alban Berg)
    Lulu is an unfinished work by german composer Alban Berg that portraits the main character as a femme fatale full of contradictions. She flirts and conquer men having fun, but at the same time the plot is full of twisted psycho background. It’s a Post-modern opera and I was able to see William Kentrigde’s production through Met Opera on Demand – it is an amazing contemporary interpretation of it (full of Kentrigdian visuals and John Cage inspired sound composition).
  • Rusalka (Dvořák)
    Was able to watch this at the Met Opera. Based on the same northern mythology folktale that inspired The Little Mermaid, the main female character had control over her fate at the beggning but in my opinion she felt a lot like a fate’s victim.
  • Lucia Lammemmoor (Gaetano Donnizetti)
    Lucia Lammemmoor is the story of a woman who is forced by her brother to marry a man – while she got married with her love in secret. On the wedding-bed she kills her husband and kills her self – her love also commits suicide. The scene in which, after killing her husband, she appears in the wedding party with bloody hands and looking very pale is known as the mad scene. Re-watched a few parts (specially the mad scene); reread the libretto and tried to analyze and parse the lines from the male characters. I did a few iterations on it and tried to see what each character talks about Lucia (use your nyu email to acess it) & did this to be supercut

Cornell Box

things I was trying to translate through my cornell box: multifaceted identity, drama, spotlight, fun, vanity, femininity,  imprisonment, stage, exility, female

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