Anthropologists in the opera: professional engagements and private inclinations in musical life
Vlado Kotnik (University of Primorska)
Paper short abstract:
The paper contemplates the relationship between opera and anthropology. Focus is on opera as a pertinent object of anthropological investigation. It will highlight some theoretical, epistemological and conceptual orientations by which anthropologists can explore and experience operatic worlds.
Paper long abstract:
On the one hand opera is an "exotic" topic for anthropologists, while on the other anthropology is still perceived as a very unusual approach to opera. Opera's urban glamour, whether it be represented through the splendor of court spectacle, the pomp of national myths and sentimental melodramas, the political party, or the bourgeois festive occasion, seemed hundreds of miles away from anthropologists' traditional activities or priorities. For four hundred years, opera's aim was to fascinate and create phantasms, focusing principally on the culture of Europe, while anthropology's task was rather different: the deconstruction of such fascinations by focusing mainly on non-European cultures. In the last decades this traditional antagonism has been overcome. The paper will thus introduce the work of anthropologists and ethnographers whose personal and professional affinity for opera has been explicated in their academic and biographical account. Anthropological accounts on opera (made by Claude Lévi-Strauss, Michel Leiris, William O. Beeman, Denis Laborde, Paul Atkinson, etc.) convince us that social anthropologists do not need to travel to distant places, primeval forests or islands to find relics of social rituals and experience the "exotic". They merely need to go to the opera, where our own weird rites are performed in both their highest and their most trivial form. As a field site, the Slovenian opera habitus (the Ljubljana and Maribor Opera Houses) will be particularly emphasized. Professional or private ethnographical inquiries of opera mostly deal with diversity and mutuality in local social venue and musical life. The paper will therefore show that the contexts of diversity (such as different places of opera determined by different social venues, music scenes, urban structures, (trans)national ideologies, collective memories and cultural traditions as elements of mutuality) do not only reveal the specificity of the role opera plays in diverse spaces but can also explain the epistemological and conceptual diversity of anthropological interest for opera research.Download the full paper
Sounding ethnography: mutuality and diversity in musical life