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Professor Mary Ann Smart; UC Berkeley School of Music
April 6, 2013 - 8:00 am
Post-human Wagner: Staging the music dramas in the digital age
George Bernard Shaw’s The Perfect Wagnerite (1898) begins by inviting the reader to imagine himself as a Rhinemaiden: “Let me assume for a moment that you are a young and good-looking woman. Try to imagine yourself in that character in the Klondyke five years ago. The place is teeming with gold.” Here and elsewhere, Shaw figures the events and characters of Der Ring des Nibelungen as normal, familiar from the streets of London. Chéreau’s centennial production at Bayreuth (1976) famously brought Shaw’s ideology onto the stage; but the political allegory and realism derived from Shaw have become almost an orthodoxy, defining a default style of Ring productions. With the translation of digital technologies onto the opera stage, however, a style of Wagnerian production has emerged that might be dubbed “post-human.” This presentation will explore the technological, aesthetic, and psychological implications of this production style, while also asking what Wagner’s operas have come to mean in our present moment.
Mary Ann Smart is Gladyce Arata Terrill Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley. Her book, Mimomania: Music and Gesture in Nineteenth-Century Opera (U of California Press, 2004), looked at the ways music gives signals for stage movement and acting style in repertory stretching from the first French grand operas of the 1830s to Verdi’s Aida and Wagner’s Ring. She is editor of the critical edition of Donizetti’s last opera, Dom Sébastien, and of the articles on Bellini and Donizetti for the revised Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Smart has published articles on the lives and public images of nineteenth-century female singers, on the ways madness is depicted in opera, on the ways musical performance intersected with polite conversation and political maneuvering in Parisian social life, and on the role of Verdi’s operas played in promoting the Unification of Italy. In 2007 Smart was awarded the Dent Medal by the Royal Musical Association and the International Musicological Society. Her book Waiting for Verdi: Opera and Political Opinion in Italy, 1815-1848 will be published next year by the University of California Press, and she has begun work on a new book that will study approaches to staging opera in Europe and North America since 1960.
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