Opera Through the Eyes of Film

Friday, May 11
9:00 am - 6:00 pm

Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society
5701 S. Woodlawn Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60637

The encounter between opera and film dates back to the birth of the motion picture at the dawn of the twentieth century. Back then, opera was a prestigious and flourishing cultural practice: the stream of new works was far from drying out, or so at least it seemed, whereas the motion picture was struggling to define its own identity both artistically and technically. In this context, cinema – its early practitioners, theorists, and enthusiasts – often invoked opera as an eminent precursor whose legacy the new art form might lay claim to and enrich. Much has changed since then. With the rise of the avant-garde in music, opera experienced a major crisis – one whose effects are still keenly felt. Suddenly, and not without surprise, film – both as a medium and as an art – has come to be seen as a possible means for opera to survive within a media-saturated world.

In all its complexity and ambivalence, the interplay of opera and film is not only a fascinating but also an intricate topic. Needless to say, to disentangle its many threads in a theoretically rigorous way requires more than a teleologically oriented narrative about the rise and fall of two genres – often, perhaps all too often, portrayed as the nec plus ultra of “high” and “low” culture. Indeed, despite the current momentum of intermedia and interart research, caution is still needed to avoid historical or theoretical over-simplification and political stereotyping when it comes to the debate on opera and film.

In keeping with these concerns, the aim of this symposium is to reassess the aesthetic and political aspects of the relationship between opera and film, taking the following question as a point of departure: how does looking at (and listening to) opera through the eyes (and ears) of film – i.e. by means of a detour through the various ways in which film remediates, represents, reappropriates, or evokes opera – change our perception and understanding of both genres? Taken in its broadest sense, this question is meant to trigger a fruitful and intensive exchange whose contours and trajectory will only emerge in the course of this symposium. Participants include Christopher Morris, Dan Wang, David J. Levin, Jelena Novak, João Pedro Cachopo, Marco Ladd, Marissa Fenley, and Tien-Tien Jong. In anticipation of the symposium, the Film Studies Center will host a screening of Mark Rappaport's Mozart in Love (1974) on May 10 at 4:00 p.m. The film will be introduced by Jonathan Rosenbaum. Both events are co-sponsored by the Department of Cinema and Media Studies and the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies. 

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