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Experiments in Opera Today: Conference and Symposium

General Programming

  • The Department of Music at Columbia University
  • Free and open to the public
  • No registration necessary
  • First come, first seated

Over the last four decades, a wide range of musicians and composers, visual artists, and theater practitioners have taken up opera as a form ripe for experimentation. It has been conceived for serialized television broadcast, performed by robots, staged in site-specific spectacles, transformed into non-narrative installations, wedded to free improvisation, and intended (if not quite realized) as interstellar rituals.

This conference and symposium considers how artists from numerous disciplines are currently working with opera now that pieces such as Meredith Monk’s Vessel (1971), Carla Bley and Paul Hanes’s Escalator Over the Hill (1969-1971), Robert Wilson and Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach (1975/6), Györgi Ligeti’s Le Grand Macabre (1977), Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives (1983), Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus (1984), and Luigi Nono and Massimo Cacciari’s Prometeo (1984/5) have already grown into ‘classics’ of the avant-garde.

What new approaches to narrative, voice, subject matter, media, and technology have recent creators of opera employed? Or is the emphasis on novelty particularly ill-suited to a form that, even in its most radical guise, continues to connote a host of conventions and traditions (ways of singing, a simultaneously extravagant and rarefied aesthetic, a canonical repertory, a bourgeois base, and so on)? What elements of the operatic past, then, have remained compelling or inevitable? This two-day event will convene a group of prominent scholars, composers, artists, directors, and dramaturgs in order to explore these and related questions.


Friday, April 20: Conference
Heyman Center, 2nd Floor Common Room

*Please note that lunch is only provided for speakers at the conference.

9:30—11:00: Retrospective—Robert Wilson (Moderator: Heather Wiebe)

David Gutkin (Peabody Institute): “Universal History, Posthistory, and Globality in Robert Wilson’s the CIVIL warS”

Arman Schwartz (King’s College London): “Opera and Objecthood, from Einstein to Klinghoffer"

11:30—1:00: Genres and Institutions (Moderator: David Gutkin)

Joy Calico (Vanderbilt University): “Chaya Czernowin's Infinite Now”

Will Robin (University of Maryland, College Park): “Opera for the 80s and Beyond, the Orchestra Residencies Program, and Institutional Experiments in American New Music in the 1980s”

2:30—4:00: Beyond the Opera House (Moderator: Arman Schwartz)

Minou Arjomand (University of Texas at Austin): “Radio Opera”

Jelena Novak (New University of Lisbon): “Opera beyond Itself: Installing the Operatic”

4:30—6:00: Reconfigurations (Moderator: Gundula Kreuzer)

Nina Sun Eidsheim (UCLA): “Opera on Voice/Voice on Opera: Afterword, an opera and ‘Accidental Meaning’”

David Levin (University of Chicago): “Yesterday’s Experiments in Opera Today”

8:00 pm, Dodge Hall 511, Lifetime Screening Room

Film: Manthia Diawara's An Opera of the World [70 minutes]

Saturday, April 21: Symposium

Heyman Center, 2nd Floor Common Room

*Please note that lunch is only provided for speakers at the conference.

10:00-12:00: Composing and Performing (Moderator: Matthew Ricketts)

Joan La Barbara (NYU)

Du Yun (Peabody Institute)

George Lewis (Columbia University)

Dodge Hall 511, Lifetime Screening Room

1:30-3:00: Keynote by Heiner Goebbels

Heyman Center, 2nd Floor Common Room

4:00-6:00: Opera’s Systems (Moderator: Lydia Goehr)

Jeanine Oleson (Parsons School of Design)

Franck Leibovici (Paris)

Yuval Sharon (The Industry, Los Angeles)

Image Credit: Photograph Stephanie Berger / Park Avenue Armory

  • David Levin Addie Clark Harding Professor, Department of Germanic Studies, Department of Cinema & Media Studies, the Committee on Theater and Performance Studies, and the College University of Chicago
  • Nina Eidsheim Professor, Associate Dean for Career Mentoring and Opportunity, School of Music University of California, Los Angeles
  • Joy Calico Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor of Musicology Vanderbilt University
  • Minou Arjomand Assistant Professor in the Department of English University of Texas at Austin
  • Will Robin Assistant Professor of Musicology and Ethnomusicology University of Maryland
  • Jelena Novak Postdoctoral Research Fellow at CESEM New University of Lisbon
  • Joan La Barbara Music Composition Faculty Steinhardt School, New York University
  • Franck Leibovici Multimedia Artist, Poet
  • Du Yun Music Composition Faculty Peabody Institute at Johns Hopkins University
  • Jeanine Oleson Assistant Professor of Photography The New School
  • George E. Lewis Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music Columbia University
  • Yuval Sharon Opera and Theatre Director
  • Keynote Heiner Goebbels Composer and Director
  • Moderator Lydia Goehr Professor of Philosophy Columbia University
  • Moderator Gundula Kreuzer Associate Professor of Music Yale University
  • Organizer David Gutkin Faculty in Musicology Peabody Institute
  • Organizer Heather Wiebe Senior Lecturer in Music King's College London
  • Organizer Arman Schwartz Lecturer in Twentieth-Century and Contemporary Music King's College London