Orientalist Opera in the 21st Century
Anita Datta (University of Durham)
Paper short abstract:
Modern productions of classic ‘Orientalist’ operas have recently been problematized by the media and those in the industry – but not everyone agrees it’s a problem. What tensions are generated when contemporary values about racial, ethnic and cultural representation clash with those of the past?
Paper long abstract:
The Operatic oeuvre is replete with representations of non-Western others, many of which were intentionally exotic and ‘orientalist’ at the time of their creation. Works including Madame Butterfly, Lakmé, The Pearl Fishers and Aida continue to be produced and reproduced throughout the world, and with them many representations of racial and cultural otherness that have sometimes raised criticism in today’s world. Through ethnomusicological analysis techniques and interviews with those currently working in the industry, the author considers different approaches to these works and representations of otherness in recent opera productions. What are we to do with the Orientalist operas in the 21st century, and how does this interact with contemporary debates about diversity and representation more widely? This analysis leads to the notion of a ‘temporal moral relativism’, in which contemporary audiences are challenged to consolidate apparently changed perspectives on race and cultural otherness with the values of a former era, enshrined and perpetuated through art.
Performing Culture: Art and Performance for Coming to Know and Expressing Knowledge in the Social Sciences