Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre (CROMT)

The Operatic


An interdisciplinary symposium looking at the concept of "the operatic" in contemporary culture

Organised by the Sussex Centre for Cultural Studies and the Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre, University of Sussex.

Friday May 19 and Saturday May 20, 2017

Writing in their book "Opera's Second Death" (2001) Slavoj Žižek and Mladen Dolar argue that opera is dead, but that it lives on as the un-dead: "If opera were simply over it could be assigned a neat place in cultural archaeology and thus properly buried. The astounding thing is the enormous operatic institution's stubborn, zombielike existence after its demise. The more opera is dead, the more it flourishes. Opera remains a huge relic, an enormous anachronism, a persistent revival of a lost past, a reflection of the lost aura, a true postmodern subject par excellence."

This symposium will consider the post-demise dispersion of opera in the cultural forms of the "operatic": those aspects of contemporary culture that borrow from opera to signify categories such as the "high", the "kitsch", the "camp", the "sublime", the “queer”, the "histrionic"; the use of "operatic" as a critical term (Adorno - Hamlet is "operatic"; Coppola's and Scorsese's films are "operatic"; Kusturica's early work is "an operatically weird blend of magic realism, punk aesthetics and Yugoslav history"); Gramsci's critique of the "operatic conception of life" in relation to Italian politics; re-mediations of opera in popular culture (e.g. as music for films and advertisements); opera as signifier of transcendence, disease or death in films such as Shawshanks RedemptionPhiladelphiaFatal Attraction; operatic voices as backing tracks for pop songs; reality TV shows like Pop Star to Opera Star; the operatic "scoring" of experience - music as heightened soundtrack to everyday life; the operatic in soap opera, horse opera and space opera. What and why does modern culture draw from the afterlife of opera?

Keynote speaker: John Storey, Emeritus Professor of Cultural Studies, University of Sunderland. Author of What is Cultural Studies? (1996), Cultural Studies and the Study of Popular Culture (2009), Utopian Desire (forthcoming), and 'Expecting Rain: Opera as Popular Culture?' in Jim Collins (ed.), High-Pop, (2001).