From Canvas to Stage: The visual artist as opera scenographer

Hannah Chan-Hartley, independent musicologist, Toronto, Canada,

Corrinne Chong, Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, Canada,

Since the start of the early modernist period, there has been a longstanding tradition of artist–opera collaborations. Dalí’s Salome (Covent Garden, 1950), David Hockney’s Turandot (Lyric Opera of Chicago, 1992) and William Kentridge’s Wozzeck (Salzburg Festival, 2017) are a few examples that attest to the enduring legacy of Wagner’s ideal of the Gesamtkunstwerk and, more generally, to the appeal that the musical stage continues to hold for painters and sculptors today. This interdisciplinary session examines the artist’s role as opera scenographer – one which involves the orchestration and manipulation of space, architectonic structures, costumes, lighting and images; in short, the visual elements of the performance environment. Inevitably, the artist’s aesthetic language and subjective lens shape the scenographic realisation of the operatic work. The outcome is an interpretation which can either complement or challenge the authorial intention, whether it be textual and/or musical. Moreover, the artist’s scenographic vision can align with or disrupt the spectator’s expectations of the production. These underlying tensions can provoke polarising critical responses which merit further investigation in the scholarship.

Papers might consider: the impact of ‘artist interventions’ on the operatic stage and the various ways in which these have sought to stimulate and invigorate the existing repertory; the artist’s idiosyncratic reading and the libretto’s dramaturgical impetus; the appropriation of art-historical imagery in the scenic tableau; and the implications of the increasingly prevalent crossover of contemporary visual artists into the sphere of opera scenography. This panel particularly welcomes papers that incorporate perspectives across the spectrum of visual culture, musicology and theatre studies. Artist-scenographers can be drawn from any historical time period.

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