Time in Opera

Kunio Hara (University of South Carolina)
Laura Moeckli (University of Bern)
Colleen Renihan (Queen's University)


Though Carl Dahlhaus made the claim over thirty years ago that "the distinction between real and expanded or imaginary time manifested in the difference between recitative and aria is by no means sufficient to do justice to the countless gradations that constitute music-dramatic reality” (1981, 2-3), few opera scholars have pursued the resulting temporal implications for opera in depth. However, given music’s and drama’s fundamental and compelling temporal dimensions, as well as the current burgeoning of scholarship on time and temporality in adjacent disciplines, we see opera as a particularly fruitful and multi-layered site of temporal inquiry. How are various temporally inflected psychological phenomena such as memory, nostalgia, anticipation and apprehension composed, staged and understood in opera? How do narrative pacing devices such as acceleration and delay, expansion and condensation, duplication and recurrence, flashback and “flash forward” function within the conventions of music drama genres in various historical and cultural contexts? In particular, how can we grasp the overlapping temporalities, the relations of convergence and divergence between represented time and time of representation, between present and evoked time, between time of speech, action, affect and music, between time and tempo that are essentially different in opera than elsewhere?

In this seminar, we invite researchers in music drama to contemplate the rich topic of time in opera from a variety of angles. Papers will be circulated in advance, and the seminar will be dedicated to an in-depth discussion, curated by the conveners, that reaches across paper topics. We hope to facilitate an exchange of ideas—an exploratory dialogue—that will fuel this nascent field of musicological inquiry. We invite topics that draw on the rich body of work on temporality in literature, linguistics, cultural history, comparative studies, film studies, gender studies, performance studies, and other disciplines.

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