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Opera Indigene: Critical Perspectives on Re/presenting First Nations and Indigenous Cultures

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Opera Indigene:
Critical Perspectives on Re/presenting First Nations and Indigenous

September 27, 2008, Kings College London, England
Deadline for Abstract Submissions: June 1, 2008

Presented in collaboration with the Centre for Research in Opera and
Music Theatre, University of Sussex and the Department of Drama, The
University of the West of England


The representation of non-western cultures in opera has long been a
focus of critical inquiry. Within this field, the diverse
relationships between opera and First Nations and indigenous cultures
has received far less attention. ‘Opera Indigene’ will take this
subject as its focus, and examine it in three different aspects:

1. Historical and contemporary representations of colonised peoples at
a distance from Europe;

2. Historical and contemporary representations of colonised peoples
from within post-colonial nations with inherited history of
colonisation; and

3. Artistic collaborations initiated by or including First Nations’

This conference will examine how representations of indigeneity are
negotiated in opera, and how these representations of First Nations’
cultures relate to historical and contemporary constructions of
cultural and national identity. The separation of the
word ‘re/presenting’ in our title seeks to address this distinction
between how representations of indigenous identity have been
constructed in opera by non-indigenous artists, and how indigenous
artists have utilised opera as an interface to present their cultural
traditions in more recent collaborations. In its focus on First
Nations cultures, this conference will specifically consider operas
and music theatre work about settler-invader colonies including
Australia, Canada, The United States, Mexico, South Africa and South

In relation to current postdramatic and post-operatic developments in
music theatre practice, it is useful to question the place of opera in
an artistic future where drama and music are not subject to the same
hierarchical assumptions in the imaginations of creators, audiences
and scholars of the operatic past and present. As demonstrated in
several recent operatic collaborations, First Nations artists have
increasingly begun to use the multidisciplinary potential of the opera
in order to present the integration of storytelling, dance and song
central to their cultural practices. More than simply a site at which
non-indigenous creators have represented indigenous culture, opera has
thus become a further avenue for the active expression and expansion
of indigenous cultural practices. The conference will provide a forum
to discuss this shift towards the notions of collaboration, collusion
and participation of a wider community of artists in opera.
Thematic Perspectives

Comparative Contexts: How do early representations of indigenous
cultures parallel or differ from those in other art forms? More
generally, how does the large corpus of writings on exoticism and
postcolonial theory impact our understanding of these operas?

Histories and Storytelling: How have the stories and histories of
first peoples been told, including those of first contact and
contemporary intercultural interaction? What world views do these
operas communicate, which histories have been privileged and which
have been marginalised? Have these approaches to representation
changed in more recent practice, and if so, how?

National Identity: How have these operas defined or positioned the
role of First Nations’ culture in relation to national identity? Do
these operas participate in nation-building projects, and do they
subscribe to or oppose nationalist agendas? What politics of inclusion
do these operas represent and how do they speak to or challenge more
recent formulations of multiculturalism developed in national policy?

Shifts in Operatic Languages: How are the musical and dramatic
languages of composers, librettists and director/performers responsive
to the challenge of either mimetic representation of the indigenous
subject and/or intertextual appropriation of First Nation performance
traditions? In this sense, what do the terms hybridity, and inter-
cultural collaboration, or transculturation, mean in relation to these

Collaborative Practice and the Face of the Other: As a genre that
integrates a variety of art forms, Opera has provided a viable
structure to express the integration of song, dance and storytelling
central to First Nations traditions. How are
composers/directors/librettists (both First Nations and non-First
Nations) using this form as a vehicle for collaboration on new opera

Case Studies

In addition to these thematic perspectives, we would welcome specific
case studies including, but not limited to, any of the following works:


Antonio Vivaldi, Montezuma (1733)
Jean-Philippe Rameau, Les Indes Galantes (1735)
Carl Heinrich Graun, Montezuma (1755)
André-Erneste-Modeste Grétry, Le Huron (1768)
Giussepe Verdi, Alzira (1845)
Iain Hamilton, Royal Hunt of the Sun (1977)
Wolfgang Rihm, Die Eroberung von Mexico (1987-1991)
Hans Zender, Chief Joseph (2005)


Calixa Lavallée, The Indian Question (1865-6)
Barbara Pentland/Dorothy Livesay, The Lake (1952)
Harry Somers, Louis Riel (1962)
Dereck Healey, Seabird Island (1976)
R. Murray Schafer, Patria series (1981 - )
R. Murray Schafer, Wizard Oil and Indian Sagwa (1982)
Wolfgang Bottenberg, Inook (1986)
John Oliver, Guacamayo’s Old Song and Dance (1991)


Arthur Nevin, Poia (1909)
Charles Wakefield Cadman, Daoma: The Land of the Misty Water (1912)
William F. Hanson, The Sun Dance, (1913)
Charles Wakefield Cadman, Shanewis (1918)
Alberto Bimboni, Winona (1926)
William F. Hanson, Tam-Men-Nacup (1929)
Roger Sessions, Montezuma (1964)
Ross Lee Finney, Weep Torn Land (1984)
Stephen Paulus, The Woman at Otowi Crossing (1995)
David Carlson, Dreamkeepers (1996)
Henry Mollicone, Coyote Tales (1998)
Linda Tutas Haugen, Pocahontas (2007)
Anthony Davis, Wakonda's Dream (2007)


Clive Douglas, A Bush Legend (1956)
James Penberthy, Dalgerie (1959)
Margaret (Ada) Sutherland, The Young Kabbarli (1964)
George Dreyfus, The Takeover (1969)
Barry Conyngham, Edward John Eyre (1971)
Peter Sculthorpe, Rites of Passage (1972–73)
Richard Meale, Voss (1985)
Brian Howard, Whitsunday (1988)
Jimmy Chi and Kuckles, Bran Nue Dae (1990)
Larry Sitsky, Three Scenes from Aboriginal Life (1991)
Andrew Schultz, Black River (1993)
Alan John and Dennis Watkins, The Eighth Wonder (1995/2000)
Moya Henderson, Lindy (2002)
Michael Maurice Harvey, Eureka! (2004)

New Zealand

Alfred Hill, Tapu (1904)
Sonny Taare, Uenuku and Niwareka (1951)
Witi Ihimaera, Roy Harris, Waituhi (1984)
Rim D. Paul/John Broughton, Ka Awatea (1994)
Gillian Whitehead, Outrageous Fortune (1998)

Contemporary Collaborations by First Nations/Indigenous Artists

Tzinquaw (1950)
Frank Morrison, Abel Joe, Canada

Black River (1994 Film Version)
Bangarra Aboriginal Dance Theatre, Andrew Schultz (Composer)
Stephen Page (Choreographer), Australia

Taku Wana (1998)
Helen Fisher (Composer), Wi Kuki Kaa (Maori Composer)
Rangimoana Taylor (Director), Lauris Edmond (Lyrics)
Richard Nunns (Taonga Puoro Performer), New Zealand

Bones: An Aboriginal Dance Opera (2001)
Sadie Buck (Composer), Alejandro Ronceria (Choreography), Canada

The Magic Flute First Nations adaptation produced by Vancouver Opera
W.A. Mozart (Composer) Robert McQueen (Director),
Michelle Olsen (Choreographer), Bob Baker (Cultural Dance Advisor),
and the First Peoples’ Heritage, Language and Culture Council, Canada

The Journey (Pimooteewin) (2008)
Thomas King (Libretto), Melissa Hui (Composer) and
Michael Greyeyes (Choreographer /Director), Canada

Please submit abstracts of 300 words maximum to Dr. Pamela Karantonis
at Pamela.Karantonis@uwe.ac.uk and Dylan Robinson at
D.W.Robinson@sussex.ac.uk by June 1, 2008.

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