Skip to content →

thesis – core ideas and more question

stripping down the opera frame, what do i have left?

is it really necessary to be in the opera context? i think my kickstarter moment was in opera, with this passage of a lecture i attended last summer about Lucia Lammemmoor:

Some scholars and contemporary directors (Francesca Zambello, Met 1992, and Katie Mitchell, 2016 ROH) have toyed with and theorized the role of Lucia and so, we have a great range of viewpoints on her character and the portrayal of the role. Is she a victim of the patriarchal manipulation of the men in her life, led to madness by her brother’s controlling personality for the sake of his lacking business bravura? Or, is her madness a vehicle to freedom from it all? Would that make her a victim OR her own heroine?

this moment of reflection for the presenter made me think of how certain female characters can be framed as a mad or heroines depending on the vocabulary choice. on that perspective, i started analyzing how the male characters refer to the female characters (either describing or talking directly to them) and i noticed that there is normally a pejorative tone on the speech. and then i questioned myself: is there a way that i can flip this pejorative speech and turn it into something that empower female? and most importantly, is this a question exclusive from the opera context?

the answer i got for the latter question came right away. no. it is not exclusive from opera. being perceived different than yourself through speech is something that happens on a daily basis and, as a women, we are constantly being suppressed by negative vernacular habits. interventions that start with “well actually”, phrases such as “you’re being emotional” or “you wouldn’t understand” make part of our daily interaction with men (and sometimes even with women). they are cultural vices that goes by without we realize and it takes time after the conversation for us to reflect and conclude that actually that was not a nice way to talk to someone. and talking with friends, after we reflect we always think how we could have answered or intervened in some way but because of timing we end up not bringing that up later – specially when it’s some kind of vocabulary usage that is not directly offensive.

can we empower women by pointing out subtle moments of misogynist cultural vices? can we help our community in not breaking the cultural mannerisms that we don’t think that much? can we, as women who are frequently interrupted by sexist vocabulary in conversations, act faster and be able to talk with people that are using these terms without realizing how they can be harmful?

what social gender norms am i talking about? what within that i want to tackle?

with that being said, i’ll be focusing on conversation as an interaction we have as humans and how vocabulary usage can reflect misogynist ideas that are inherent in our culture. the gender norms i’ll be talking about is what are the language expressions usually used when talking to women – and form those, which can make females feel harmed / discomfort / self-doubt.

what are the core elements of my project?

female empowerment

wearable device that reacts through live semantical analysis of conversations

what are the goals of this project?

give the opportunity for females to act faster when people use sexist expressions – and also to make people (including women) reflect over their vocabulary usage.

is there any room for improvisation?

yes! i guess it would, because a lot depends on the connotation and how i decide to implement it – so i’d assume that if i decide to implement semantical analysis through machine learning, it would likely evolute and understand when it’s ok and when it’s not to use certain expressions.

what is the context of application?

i’m still open for this one but i think that now i’m thinking about a daily routine accessory – but maybe there could be specific interactions that will go beyond the daily basis usage, such as art installations, performances for the device – maybe as costume prop skeleton?

what the wild woman archetype has to do with this?

the fact that people are still using archaic verbal expressions just reinforces female stereotypes and make females drift away from our essence and instinct.

new references:

mansplaining – http://mansplainitto.me/

microagressions database – http://www.microaggressions.com/

Leave a Comment

thesis – proposal feedback

once we submitted our thesis proposal, we got a feedback from it. I got thumbs up but they definitely made me think a lot of different things. i’ve high lighted a few things on the comments that i thought that were interesting or made me rethink what is the scope of my project.

Matt Romein

You’ve done a great job researching and articulating the elements of your research that you find interesting. I’m starting to wonder if the central idea you want to explore has outgrown the context of opera though. The central idea of language and words and vocals and how they are used against women in the realm of micro-aggressions, shaming, demeaning, and catcalling is a rich area to work from and examine especially when you are looking at how to manifest and visualize/audiolize these slights. The context in opera is tricky to navigate though since it has explicit rules of how it is performed and viewed and having the text and language be predetermined makes the idea of doing live semantic analysis redundant and conceptually confusing. I would ask what is more important to you at this point, opera or verbal aggressions and slights towards women. I don’t want you to feel like I’m telling you to abandon your idea but I feel like there’s a lot of breathing room for the things you want to explore if you work outside of opera specifically. If it being opera is extremely important to you then by all means continue to explore it. I think there are a lot of conceptual parts to the project that need to be ironed out still and I’d be more than happy to work with you to figure those things out.

KG

Your thesis proposal is clearly well researched and your reasons of intent are solid. I think you need to focus on why opera is so important to you in designing around social gender norms and which norms in particular you want to address. I agree with Matt that I think you need to consider other situations in which this project can come to life, as it has many applications to scenarios outside of opera.

Reviewer 1:

Given that opera is tightly scripted and directed, wouldn’t you be able to know in advance, and then be able to direct the performer to change her actions accordingly?

I am all for changing the gender power balance, but I don’t understand why there is need for a device to analyze a pre-scripted event, when a human can do that so much better. Instead of making a device, why not just hire a director more attuned to gender politics?

Reviewer 2:

Cool idea. I personally think this would be much more interesting device if it were pitched toward an “everyday” context. Opera, in itself, is an interesting topic too, but having the device and opera come together in this project may not be the best for either investigation.

Reviewer 3:

I like the idea of using technology to transform a female voice. In what ways will your device change the female voice in your project? Will the actual words spoken change? The tone of the voice? The tenor? What does a wild woman sounds like?

My main question is about the connection between opera and your concern about social gender norms. It sounds like opera is a personal love and something you wish others loved, too. How does this overlap with your thoughts about female empowerment? So many of the opera texts are from a long time ago. Gender norms have evolved, if slowly, since many operas were written. Perhaps your device would be better applied to more current performative art forms or even to real time social situations to show how far we still have to go.

I’d like to hear more about the social gender norms that will be used to identify the use of authoritarian speech/text. How agreed upon are they as norms? Who has determined them? Do they apply equally to male-female and female-female conversations?

Have you heard of the Bechdel test? It’s used a lot in the film industry to determine whether or not a film includes strong female characters and to point out films with gender inequality that fail this simplest of tests. It’s very simple – do two female characters have a conversation about something other than a man.

Reviewer 4:

I’m very on the fence with this one, because having talked with you I really like the core ideas, but the current output relies on vocal amplification. Opera inherently is against vocal amplification. So while I really respect the question and its goals, I think the project needs a significant shift.

Backing up I agree that “why opera” needs to be addressed more clearly. I think you could argue with some deep research, that there was a cycle of opera reinforcing gender norms through history. And certain powerful sectors might still attend the opera regularly. (You could focus your study on the Met for example, and look at their corporate sponsors. You could even go through one of their programs to see top donors, or there are various non-profit tools to try to parse out their donors.)

You will know the entire score and libretto befhorehand. So the sensing might be to track where in the score they are at each performance, but you will know ‘when’ these moments occur in advance.

Also you should look at shows that were pretty sexist when written, directed today by strong women.  A great example (I think still running??) is Sweet Charity directed by Leigh Silverman. Because a strong directoral hand can help.

If you want to focus on the music, perhaps you focus on the orchestrations. Scan the score and the libretto. Find those moments. And then have the orchestration change at these moments you want to highlight. Perhaps dropping out under the male character in moments, or boosting the female characters. I believe there was some great work NVIDEA was funding on using their cards for machine learning and orchestrations.

Reviewer 5:

I love the idea…..but you would already know the libretto and what is coming so it doesn’t need to respond dynamically and live.

The interesting thing to me is that gender norms are still alive and well, so well we don’t often notice them. Anyway, they were 19th or early 20th century norms…What if what the characters displayed was what a modern woman would be thinking or saying. There’s a movie with Mel Gibson called What Women Want, where they guy develops a super power to know what women are really thinking, no matter what they are saying…

Reviewer 6:

I suppose there is a contradiction of going through the trouble of making and interactive device in an pre scripted environment. But I like the idea. Perhaps this is a setting that has all the operatic trapping but leaves room for improvisation of for instance the woman fighting agains the device.

Reviewer 7:

While sharing the concerns of the other reviewers, I kind of echo  looking at the idea not only from opera but from “everyday” context.

The idea of a device that would shift the tonality of the “performer”, make them more aware of the voice they are using and help overcome their “prescripted” voice and awaken their “wild woman” could be a powerful thing in itself.

so in the light of the feedback, i started questioning myself the following things:

why opera?

what social gender norms am i talking about? what within that i want to tackle?

what are the core elements of my project?

is there any room for improvisation?

what is the context of application?

what the wild woman archetype has to do with this?

Leave a Comment

thesis – formal talks: Christina DeMaio

As I dive into the Opera world, thought it made sense to go talk with people that are in it. Christina DeMaio is an mezzo / mezzo-soprano opera singer who lives in Connecticut. Once I introduced my inital research to her, I asked her to explain to me a bit better about her engagement in the opera and what is her usual role on productions. To have a mezzo voice means that she normally engages in secondary roles – pants roles such as young, servant boys or minor female characters. The mezzo voice, like the soprano, is likely to be a female voice.

“She looks like a mezzo”

As we started talking about how old compositions were adapted nowadays (specially with the castrati roles), she mentioned that body type can say what type of voice you have. As an example, mezzos are normally tall and slim (and therefore kind of look like boys). They also tend to have long necks, whereas a soprano normally has a shorter one / and shorter larger body. As we started talking about the sopranos, who are usually the main female character voice , she mentioned how the body shaming culture also is present in Opera – specially with the pressure that this type of art is going through to modernize. She mentioned that there is a male opera singer type of voice that is the equivalent of the male soprano. It’s called counter-tenor and it’s very present in baroque music. She said that a lot of times counter-tenors surprises the audience because they are a voice that plays a lot with tradition vs unexpected.

Characterization of characters within Opera

As I asked her if there were specific costumes for voice types, she mentions how what will define the type of costume that the opera singer will sing is the character that they are playing as well as the time period in which the opera was composed – and depending on the director’s approach regarding original production loyalty.On that perspective, sopranos have more to deal with the costume design because if there is a need of being true to the original context, there will be specific gestures and movement to be mimicked and costume can help by creating limitations to the singer not to make contemporary ones.

Leave a Comment

thesis – thoughts through informal talks

last week i talked with a few friends about our thesis and i think it was important to get closer to what i want to do, so here are a few interesting thoughts / references / comments:

  • wild men are celebrated, so why not celebrate the wild women?
  • “Cat on a hot tin roof”
  • is the wild woman repression related to a conception os promiscuity?
  • is my project trying to change the connotation of this “hate/repressor” speech?
  • subtly subverting what this speech carries
  • is it an active resistance piece?
  • what is the difference between the double-standards toward gender behavior? are there playful ways of creating juxtaposition of those?
  • are there interesting comparisons between male vs female characters?
  • how can you explore drama since it’s a remarkable characteristic of the opera?
Leave a Comment

thesis – proposal

the female identity in opera

how can we reframe the female identity defined by the male characters in opera as a celebration of the wild woman?

My project will be an accessory worn by a female character during an opera performance that, through speech recognition/ text analysis, identifies when she’s being referred by the male characters in an authoritarian tone informed by social gender norms. Through that identification, this accessory will change its physical form and manipulate the female’s voice – projecting the power of being a wild woman. It’s in the nature of the opera to be a performative genre and within it, gender is no exception. It has a long history of how the character’s gender and the performer’s gender were combined (man playing woman, woman playing man, woman playing castrato roles etc) and its through voice, costume and choreography that the gender of the character is truly performed.

I’ll be reading about the following topics (but not limited to them): female identity, gender & opera, contemporary identity, female archetypes, character construction, feminism, identity perception, wild women;
i’ll be reaching out researchers & artists who have done work about women’s empowerment, identity, identity perception as well as being in touch with people from the opera, costume designers & opera singers;
i’ll be researching about text/sound as mediums and how recently possible new technologies can retell the performatic & impactful stories told through the art of opera, text analysis, speech recognition, wearable technologies, soft robotics etc.

through the body of work i’ve been developing at ITP, i found myself very interested in pointing out unnoticed moments of women empowerment through either objects or metaphorical archetypes representations. on this context, it always comes to my mind a question with no exact answer: what it means to be a female? what is the female identity? recently i’ve been reading about the wild woman, the original and natural essence of being a female, and i believe that when women get in touch with that part of themselves, they embody the most powerful aspect of being a female – and it can have the power to change the way women are understood within our society. in addition, i’ve developed through the last 5 years an interest in opera and i see most of my friends underrating it as an impactful art . and as we see a lot of meta art about groundbreaking painting, videos, installations & manifestos, there is barely any artwork that approaches opera content – so i strongly believe this is an opportunity to talk about this art medium & storytelling on a more contemporary perspective. my main goal with this project is to make people rethink of female archetype(s) within the art context & beyond; how it can reinforces negative and/or submissive aspects but also how we can instigate people to rethink about those perceptions and reflect this on their daily lives.

Leave a Comment

thesis – (a few) references

Manet’s Olympia

Yoko Ono’s Voic Piece for Soprano

Marcia X

Cindy Sherman’s portraits

(which brought me to Prima Donna)

Women who Run with the Wolves

Ying Gao‘s high tech conceptual fashion projects

Elza Soares – Woman at the end of the world album (the fun present in her lyrics – even when she talks about serious topics such as physical agression towards women, transgender & society issues).

 

 

Mãeana (music texture and aesthetic)

Solange – Seat in the table (lightness while addressing serious racism issues and stories)

Martha Rosler’s Semiotics of the kitchen

Nijinsky’s L’après midi du faune

Gaga dance technique

Heart Beat Opera company

Loft Opera

William Kentrigde’s Lulu

Louise Lawler’s Bird call

John Everett Millais’ Ophelia

Anne Goodfriend’s wearable project

 

http://www.theopera101.com/

in the peking opera, there are 4 types of characters – dan is referred to any female character, originally played by men, then played by man and woman and now played mostly by woman. They have 5 types of female charactes:

Zhengdan role was the main Dan role in the Northern Zaju. Zhengdan refers to young or middle-aged women with gentle and refined dispositions. Most of Zhengdan ‘s lines are delivered in song, and even the spoken parts are recited in rhythmic style. Always dressed in a blue gown, Zhengdan is also called Qingyi (blue clothes).

Huadan is a role for a vivacious maiden, a young woman with a frank and open personality, or a woman of questionable character.

Wudan refers to female characters skilled in the martial arts and can be subdivided into Daomadan and Wudan, according to the social positions and skills represented. Daomadan is good at using pikes and spears, and at riding horses. Wudan always wears short robes and the role emphasizes acrobatics. Wudan plays gods and ghosts and has excellent fighting skills.

Laodan usually represents aged women. He/She sings in their natural voices, in a style similar to that of Laosheng but in milder tones. In some types of opera, Laodan is called Fudan or Bodan.

Caidan, also called Choudan, represents clownish and cunning females. The performance of this part calls for exuberance.

Leave a Comment

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

Leave a Comment

thesis – the female identity perception

since classes started, i’ve been reframing my question. i think my initial question (how performing daily routine actions can empower someone and help them build their own identity – in a individual and a community scale?) had a really big scope because i wasn’t sure what i wanted to focus on. since i started ITP, i’ve developed a big interest in expressing my concerns regarding women’s identity through my work. Penelope was about showing the power that the Odyssey character had through her weaving activity; Ha-mazan was about signaling that there is a women who bikes and she is present, strong and safe; In the silence of my lonely room is about defiguring the idea of vanity, by portraying the beautifying routine as a moment of powerfulness (to the point that it might cause annoyance). I also did two other concept projects that are about shedding light on different perspectives: interesse publico was a news search-engine tool that visually uniformed articles from different sources regarding the same topic, giving the reader the chance of making their own opinion; unlikely conversations was a concept project for data art, made in collaboration with Francesca, in which we imagined an art installation in which the audience is exposed to two american female writters POV regarding the same topic (ie feminism my toni morrison vs fenimism by gloria steinem).

so, there are two things that i’m really interested in: empowering females & exposing people different perspectives over a topic.

how can i reframe my initial question to put those two matters in them?

and with this in my mind, i started brainstorming more questions. i was more interested in rereading, rewriting my question as well as put my “inspiration” spasms together – and I tried to make a logic path from my original thinking to my new framing. Kind of like i was attempting to cook a tasty meal with whatever i had home.

 

this is how i came with my new question:

how can we shed light on the power of female identity through the way it is portrayed in opera?

after i had this reframe moment of my thesis, these the steps planned:

  • theoretical research regarding opera, opera & gender, female identity, performance;
  • talk with people that are doing projects related to female empowerment & opera;

 

Leave a Comment

thesis – initial question(s) & thoughts

how performing daily routine actions can empower and help someone build their own identity – in an individual and a community scale?

can consciously choosing to repeat one action everyday empower the self? who you are will determine what you do or what you do is what defines who you are? is the act of daily reinventing yourself a life-saving performance? is repetition a chance you give yourself to evolute? how to talk about self reinvention through life/death/life cycle?

Leave a Comment