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Title: Monteverdi on the modern stage
Author: Camp, Gregory Louis
ISNI:       0000 0003 7581 356X
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2012
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Over the past hundred years, the operas of Claudio Monteverdi have become iconic symbols of the early music movement and have entered the canon of so-called great operas. The conventional explanation for their iconicity is that they are historically important works, the first to fully realise the potential of the operatic genre, and that they speak to us and relate to contemporary concerns. These definitions, though, are contingent on surrounding socio-cultural factors. Rather than trying to explain their immanent and autonomous greatness, this thesis examines how Monteverdi’s operas have actually been received and performed on stage, going beyond mere description and providing a deeper analysis of the political, cultural, and social contexts of their performative instances. There is no single explanation for why performers and scholars have so frequently engaged with Monteverdi’s operas, but it is clear that Monteverdi opera is now, as it was in the seventeenth century, a fluid entity. In the current stage of what Zygmunt Bauman calls ‘liquid modernity’ this fluidity and lack of single answers is particularly apparent in operatic performance. But where Bauman sees liquid life as a negative and troubling state, this thesis will show that, at least regarding early opera, not having one answer leads to great invention and thoughtful engagement with the contexts of the past and present. The thesis consists of five case studies, each examining in detail one particular issue brought up by the early opera revival. First, an examination of Monteverdi’s place in the earliest stages of the revival in the first half of the twentieth century challenges the view of the early music movement as primarily antiquarian. The thesis demonstrates the revival’s highly politicised underpinnings in France, Germany, and Italy and the varied effect politics had on how and why Monteverdi’s operas were performed in those countries. Next, audio and video evidence is used to investigate three aspects of modern Monteverdi performance in more depth, examining how stage directors have placed notions of community on stage in their interpretations of L’Orfeo, how stage and music directors have reshaped Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria for widely varying dramaturgical and musical ends, and how singers have interpreted the role of Ottavia in L’incoronazione di Poppea vocally and dramatically. Finally, I examine three recent productions of L’incoronazione di Poppea from the perspective of a participant observer, focusing on how the opera functions in the real space of an opera house, and how the presence of performance is conveyed in early opera today through the use of directorial attitudes, space, and the staging of gender relations. This wide-ranging thesis demonstrates that the concept of a ‘Monteverdi opera’ is fundamentally fluid. This fluidity involves not only the texts themselves (cuts, rearrangements, transpositions, orchestrations, etc.) but also their medium (the stage, film, recording), their ideologies (nationalistic, fascist, communitarian), and their performances (in various singing and playing styles). While a large amount of valuable and rigorous work has been done in studying the early music movement, few of these studies find a significant place for early opera, and few recognise the basic fluidity and cultural contingency of performance and reception. This thesis hopes to correct those omissions, and to show how this fluidity manifests itself in the modern production of Monteverdi’s operas.
Supervisor: Clarke, Eric ; Rees, Owen Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Opera ; Performance ; opera ; Monteverdi ; performance