Nineteenth-century grand opera outside Paris

Section of musicology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, 10-12 December 2014

Grand opera was arguably one of the most significant musical developments of the 1830s and 1840s, both as a local Parisian, and an international, indeed almost global, phenomenon. In the opening paragraph of his introductory chapter to The Cambridge Companion to Grand Opera, David Charlton draws immediate attention to the international frame of reference, which should guide our interest in grand opera. He writes: “There is no more astonishing evidence of the power of grand opera than A Life for the Tsar, first given at Skt. Petersburg in 1836”.
To begin with, of course, the power of grand opera as more than just a Parisian phenomenon showed itself primarily through the popularity of these works, written for the Paris opera, outside Paris and outside France, and through the international fame of the principal authors of the masterpieces of the genre: Meyerbeer, Auber, Halevy etc., and, of course, not least Scribe, the librettist. Equally important, as seen from an international perspective is the role of these works as vehicles for famous singers’ careers, supplementing the works of Italian bel canto in such star singers’ repertoires. Quite fast, however, the Parisian grand operas also profoundly influenced composers and librettists elsewhere – as Charlton’s example serves to illustrate.
While for a long time practically ignored by musicologists at large, and effectively out of fashion since some time around the beginning of the 20th century, scholarly interest in the subject has been gaining momentum for several decades by now (more recently, some of these works also seem to return, gradually, to the repertoires of opera houses). In the already quite substantial and expanding musicological literature on grand opera, pride of place has so far been given to studies that qualify the genre as a quintessentially Parisian phenomenon, a product of the cultural and political climate of the July monarchy and of the unique processes of urbanization associated with ‘the capital of the nineteenth century’. But the contemporary importance and influence of Parisian grand operas on developments of local opera culture outside Paris and France can hardly be overestimated, or if it can, at least it has not been so yet.

This conference therefore seeks to address questions pertaining to the ‘extra-Parisian’ histories of grand opera in the nineteenth century. We invite papers and panels dealing with:

  • Performance histories of Parisian grand operas outside Paris: at theatres worldwide, provincial as well as metropolitan.
  • Grand opera and adaptation studies (translation, transformation, scenography, local version of the score).
  • Grand opera and theatre technology.
  • Grand opera in the repertoires of divas and divos.
  • Grand opera in a colonial and postcolonial perspective.
  • Grand opera and cosmopolitanism.
  • Grand opera and societal change in the 19th century.
  • Other aspects relevant to the history of grand opera.

Keynote speakers to be announced later.

As an outcome of the conference, an anthology of essays based on selected papers from the conference is envisaged.

Please note that the conference will include two formats:

A) Ordinary papers and panels
B) Pre-circulated papers (closed sessions)

That is, apart from the possibility of presenting papers (open to the public), the conference will also allow for sessions in seminar-format aiming at in-depth discussions of pre-circulated papers (attended by conference participants only). Applicants wishing to contribute to this latter format should indicate so when submitting their abstract.

The organizers invite abstracts for both formats (400 words max) to be forwarded to grandopera@hum.ku.dk by 22 September 2014. When sending the abstract, please include also a short biography, and an indication of institutional affiliation (if applicable).

The conference committee aims to notify applicants by 6 October 2014 at the latest. Those selected to contribute to the seminar-format sessions will be asked to submit a draft paper (3,000 words max) by 24 November 2014.

The conference is hosted by the Department of Arts- and Cultural Studies, University of Copenhagen, and organized by the NOH-S funded research project Opera on the Move in the Nordic Countries during the Long Nineteenth Century.

The conference language is English.

Conference committee: Jens Hesselager (University of Copenhagen, Denmark), Anne Sivuoja-Kauppala (University of the Arts, Helsinki/ Sibelius Academy), Ulla-Britta Broman-Kananen (University of the Arts, Helsinki/ Sibelius Academy), Owe Ander (Stockholm University, Sweden).