CFP Guaranteed Session: Opera after World War II

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    Sydney Boyd

    The executive committee of the MLA Forum on Opera and Musical Performance has issued a call for papers for a session at the 2021 convention, “Opera after World War II: Production, Memory, Mourning,” on “how operatic productions after World War II participate in, elide, or mediate historical catastrophe or radical discontinuity.” The word limit for the title and CFP was tight—here one can be more expansive about the topic. We hope for wide participation and discussion at the session next year. Please read on, and please consider sending an abstract for a paper (that deadline, for a title and two hundred fifty words, is March 20th).

    For a session addressing, we hope, the very broad, perennial question of the relationship of the arts to history, why this particular focus on opera production after the Second World War? It’s in part because, it seems, opera engages the emotion of the audience in a special way due to music. Emotion, it has been argued, is a crucial dimension of the experiencing of events, “historical” or not, whether by seeing and hearing, or in remembering them. The engagement of feeling by listening to music, it’s been suggested, can have an enabling effect on memory and perception. Have opera productions after 1945 sometimes done something of that kind?

    Operas, unlike wordless musical performance, also relay stories, narratives; legends (and ideology? Or myth?)  Which stories–and how are they to be re-invented? How to recast old stories encrusted with the history of their reception?—opera directors implicitly confront that question. In organizing a panel on “Opera after World War II, production, memory, mourning,” we were thinking as well about productions staged by directors who deliberately try to address the idea that their mise-en-scènes are “post-war.” Indeed, deliberately aiming to reflect that they are taking place after, or in the face of a recurrence of, catastrophe, in particular, the 1930’s and ‘40’s.

    We would be very interested in papers of various kinds, including, but not restricted to,  these: papers about particular productions of an opera (Warlikowski’s Salome? David Eyre’s Manon Lescaut?); and, papers about what is being transmitted inasmuch as opera continues to be produced. Why wish for the continuation of the particular kind of music and theater called opera? A reader pointed out that “opera” means “works” — and that, in concatenating and staging both words and music, opera invites, or risks, the work of mourning–not only history, but an impossible to fulfill desire of language to be music–and, together with that desire, the existence of music as (just) language.

    Cynthia Chase

    Secretary of the MLA Executive Committee of the Forum for Opera and Musical Performance English and Comparative Literature

    Cornell UniversityIthaca, N.Y. 14850

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