Research Paper

OPERA

‘Opera is a formal theatrical medium that expresses its dramatic essence by integrating its words and action with music’ (Fisher 2005, p16). It was born out of royal entertainments in 17th-century Italy and France. These were spectacular productions celebrating marriages or political visits used by kings or nobles to show off their wealth and power (Vam.ac.uk, 2014). Therefore, opera productions had to be impressive. In a historic era that everything had to be excessive enough for the king and his visitors to be pleased, massive cast, extraordinary voices, remarkably monumental spaces have been the significant elements towards the shaping of what we today consider as opera. Opera, appears to be way too far from what contemporary people understand as entertainment today. It is not the story that people find hard to relate to, but the way it’s being told. Contemporary audiences find it difficult to engage with opera, as they are interested in different ways of perceiving a story, which is away from what opera once used to stand for.

Redefinitions of opera

As post-modern theories suggest, lots of different kinds of audiences have emerged, due to the evident fragmentation of contemporary society. People came into contact with a much larger array of cultures, religions, ideologies, styles, fashions and mediums. As far as opera concerns, that caused the various audiences to form different demands, and accordingly conceptions, on the way they perceive the operatic experience, which, in turn, led to several ventures that tried to change the way opera is being staged, telling the story and engaging the audiences.

Various attempts have been conducted in order the interest for opera to be raised and the percentage rate of the operatic audience to be increased, such as radio and television broadcasts, broadcasts of live performances in HD to movie theatres  and opera productions available for downloading (Wikipedia, 2014). Such attempts are examples of rebranding existing operas normally performed in the Opera House. Through the use of digital technology and by placing opera out of the conventional space where it is usually perceived, productions companies, trying to make opera relevant to a wider audience.

Besides rebranding, though, that affected mainly the space of where opera is shown, various attempts have been conducted in order for new audiences to be engaged, that changed the perception of the operatic experience and explored new ways of staging an opera in terms of space and narrative.

In the modern age, there are many examples that demonstrate different ways of reshaping the established linear operatic narrative structures: ‘scenes could proceed simultaneously (as in Bernd Alois Zimmermann’s Die Soldaten, 1965), present different versions of the same story (Harrison Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus), tell no story at all (Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach) or dispense with a text altogether (Wolfgang Rihm’s Séraphin, 1995)’ (Clements, 2011).

What is more, in terms of space, in 1960 and 70s, as opera was becoming increasingly expensive art to put on, composers looked for cheaper alternatives, which were conveniently labelled as music theatre. These stripped-down pieces usually meant to be presented in concert halls or smaller spaces, with a minimum of set and props, instrument and actors. Opera started to change in order to adopt itself to the needs of the different audiences.

Since then, following the emergence of a digital era, opera opened up to the incorporation of film or real-time video and digital media and the internet.

‘Invisible cities’ is an opera took place in LA’s Union Station. Audience members would wear high-tech headphones to listen to the music.  The performance was filmed and became an online experience, as user can go online and choose to watch any its scenes.  http://invisiblecitiesopera.com/production/

‘You are here’ opera is encountered as a set of six visual artworks that each contain a QR code, which can be activated with a smartphone camera. The codes connect to short opera videos, forming a virtual peephole between interior spaces of Glyndebourne Opera and exterior spaces of three opera houses in Berlin.’

http://reframe.sussex.ac.uk/youarehere/

Hyperopera

One particularly distinguishing attempt to challenge and bring new artistic expression to the traditional and conventional operatic performances is the Hyperopera. Hyperopera, as was devised by Laura Kay Swanson and Yuval Sharon, is a form of opera which takes place out of the conventional Opera House and gives audience the opportunity to walk throughout the space during the time of the performance and make choices about which storyline to follow. ‘The 360-degree decentralized set created by six Los Angeles installation artists, shatters the traditional theatrical contract between audience and performer. The audience may choose from varying vantage points to experience the 2 ½ hour production, ranging from beanbag chairs mere inches from the performers to a broader birds-eye view from a makeshift balcony, or even walking along a catwalk that surrounds the stage’ (Remler, 2015). Audience members stand or sit in and around the space, but are able to see and hear activity in other parts of the area through live video streams and sound technology.

Hyperopera through the way it’s structured calls into question notions of narratives, audience’s passivity and space. It is the kind of theatrical performance which falls under the category of interactive theatre, as it requires a rather active audience. Furthermore, the fact that it’s being performed in an expanded theatrical space, more precisely in a converted warehouse, makes it a site specific performance. Hyperopera is a site specific opera which is concerned with the idea of engaging the audience by allowing it to interact with the space and the story itself. Despite the fact that makes use of digital technology, Hyperopera doesn’t address audiences interested in having an entire digitalized experience, but rather audiences wishing to explore physical space and  participate in an interactive site specific performance.

Hyper-Opera 

and

Hyperopera

As it is mentioned above, the digital revolution led the way to the emergence of a particular type of audience mainly interested in a digital way of existing in the world, in internet art, digital mediums, social media and electronic music. With regard to opera, that raises the question of what type of opera could address an audience interested in a digital way of existing in the world?

That’s what Hyper-Opera aims to explore.

Hyper-Opera seeks to investigate new perceptions of the operatic theatrical experience, by exploring the idea of staging an opera on the cyberspace. That is to say, it looks to turn this established type of theatrical performance, from a real theatre into a virtual theatre. On top of that, reflecting on the definition of Hyperopera, Hyper-Opera aims to explore the idea of site-specificity, but this time developed in the cyberspace.

Towards a virtual theatre

According to Gabriella Giannachi, ‘virtual theatre constructs itself through the interaction between the viewer and the work of art which allows the viewer to be present in both the real and the virtual environment’. In her book, which is a book about virtual reality environments, Giannachi argues that this environment, among other ways, could also be created by HTML or VRLM. ‘The forms of textualities that are rendered through HTML called hypertextualities. Whether textual or intermedial, hypertextualities are fluid and open forms that allow the reader or viewer to move beyond the world of interface and penetrate the realm of work of art’ (Giannachi, 2004, p.13). Hypertext is ‘text composed of blocks of words (or images) linked together electronically by multiple paths, chains or trails in an open-ended, perpetually unfinished textuality described by terms link, node, network, web and path’ (Barthes quoted in Landow and Landow, 1992, p.3). ‘Hypertextualities introduce a performative dimension to the acts of reading and viewing. In order to be engaged with, hypertexts need to be acted upon and reading hypertext becomes equivalent to putting into action’ (Giannachi, 2004, p.13).

Marshal McLuhan states that: ‘ the effect of the medium is made strong and intense just because it is given another medium as “content”. The content of a movie is a novel or a play or an opera’ (McLuhan, 1964, p.18).

The Hyper-Opera is being born where hypertext and opera meet each other. This combination of the two generates a virtual, non-linear opera, which gives user the opportunity to explore and make their own way through the potentially eternally expanded piece. Once opera goes online and takes the form of a hypertext, it allows users to interact with it and to actually become part of the performance, as they need to perform themselves in order for the story to be unraveled. Hypertext’s  bids of text linked to each other give way to digitally visualised animated scenes of a completely newly composed opera.

As it becomes clear, interaction is one of Hyper-Opera’s significant qualities.  Although interaction is ,one of Hyperopera’s characteristics too, it doesn’t affects the piece and users perception to the same extend as in Hyper-Opera. Hyper-Opera engages the audience, by allowing it to make choices on how to experience the performance. It requires active users, in order to be performed. Unlike Hyperopera, If the user doesn’t act, the piece will not even occur.

[Web]site – specificity

What Hyperopera and Hyper-Opera have in common is that both are staged away from conventional theatrical spaces. In terms of space, what differentiates Hyperopera from Hyper-Opera is that the latter happens within the cyberspace and not the physical one. But, where on the web does the Hyper – Opera takes place? The answer lies within the question: What does it mean to create a web site specific performance? What does it means to stage an opera in an existing website?

‘Site-specific theatre is any type of theatrical production designed to be performed at a unique, specially adapted location other than a standard theatre’ (Wikipedia, 2014). A web – site – specific performance like Hyper-Opera requires a web location in order to be performed.  A direct interpretation from the analogue space would suggest that in order for this performance to be considered as site – specific, it should be placed and performed within an existing website. That is one option. But, the fact that the digital space is inherently different than the real one, opens new possibilities towards exploring site – specificity.

First and foremost, something that needs to be taken into account is that in the digital space there is no location in the sense that there is in the real world. In digital space a site (or part of it) has the ability to exist within another site, which essentially means that the user has the chance to experience both without spending time in moving from or towards them. Furthermore, one website can host more than one websites. So, for example one’s personal website can include twitter feed, their blog etc. That gives a digital performance the potential to be not just site – specific but, rather, sites – specific. Also, as it becomes clear in the analogue space as well, ‘the particularities of  ‘place’ have the capacity to recontextualize performance, just as performance can reformulate how we perceive and experience space and place’ (Joanne Tompkins, 2012). In digital space where the information circulates fast and smoothly, a site – specific performance can be understood as a place where bits of the performance and bits of the site (space) flow into each other, causing at the same time changes to both of them and making it unclear, whether the performance has been placed within the space or the space within the performance. In this ambiguous situation, where performance and space become almost one thing, attributes of the latter run through the former and vice versa. Current perceptions of site have moved ‘from a physical location – grounded, fixed, actual – to a discursive vector – ungrounded, fluid, virtual ’, effectively relocating meaning from art object to the contingencies of context (Doherty in Pearson, 2010, p12).

Hyper – Opera explores the idea of web – site – specificity, as it defined above. It considers existing websites as contextual containers for its performance and, also, looks at possible ways the selected spaces could inform the Hyper – Opera and vice versa. It looks for ways to make bits of the Opera and bits of the spaces flow into each other.

Feminine Narratives

Both Hyperopera and Hyper-Opera find themselves challenging traditional structures of narratives, based on how contemporary audiences view, listen and perceive stories today. They both share the same perspective: that despite story’s fragmented narrative, the audiences is capable of completing the story, and form their own personal truth. Their difference lies mainly on the way they end. Hyperopera features a song called “Party at the End of the World”, which is part of the second act and it is the closing song of the opera. Hyper-Opera doesn’t have such a song. It doesn’t even have a closure.

The story to be told is quite an old one. It is the story of the Iliad and the Odyssey, but this time, seen from the point of view of the women characters. In fact, most of the women taking part in the two epic poems disclose aspects of their personalities and tell stories demonstrating their emotional states. Different archetypical women characters are investigated, in an attempt to demystify the female substance as a whole. Hyper-Opera raises the feminine point of view in two of the most masculine epic poems ever written. this becomes possible by virtue of the very structure of the Hyper-Opera, or. better, because of hypertext’s inherent qualities.

Landow argues that hypertext is composed of bodies of texts that have no primary axis of organisation. ‘Such a characteristic organisation (or lack of it) derives from the rhizome’s fundamental opposition to hierarchy, a structural form whose embodiment Deuleze and Guattari find in arborescent’ (Landow and Landow, 2006, p.59). There is no centre, no beginning and no ending. As Giannachi argues: ‘Since one of the characteristics of the hypertextual fiction is the absence of  a clearly identifiable ending, hypertext also subverts narrative and dramaturgical theory by ensuring that the true ending is outside of the work of art and resides within the world of the viewer.’

Hypertextual structures have the capacity to challenge dominant forms of narratives. They open new paths towards getting away from the masculine concept of linearity, include alternative ways of story telling. ‘The classical narrative form that dominates literature is said to mimic male sexual experience – with its gradual rhythmic buildup, the climax, and a slow decline towards a final resolution’ (Kozak, 2013, p.1). Therefore linear narratives are generally consider to be masculine.  Homer’s two epic poems share the masculine value. It’s the story of man, on his way to manhood. On the other hand, women’s experience, says Donovan often seems, when held against masculine plot ‘static, and in a mode of waiting. It is not progressive, or oriented towards events happening sequentially or climactically, as in the traditional masculine story plot’. Passivity is the key characteristic of the feminine, but in a way that is always open, open to be possessed, open to explore and discover. And that’s why there is no desire for closure, ‘her writing can only go on and on’ (Cixous, 1994, p. 42-44).

As Jennifer Cruise points out, ‘back in the kitchen, women were telling stories, too. The difference was, they were telling patterned stories, stories that emphasised detail and repetition, that built up meaning through the relationships of events, recurring climaxes that achieved meaning through their juxtaposition with each other’ (Cruise 2011). Hyper-Opera provides the place for women to tell their own story, through their own perspective, without being part of someone else’s story. Hypertext, being by definition a non-linear tool, seems an appropriate medium for a feminine story to be told.

Hyper-opera aims to explore new experiences that emerge from the integration of old and new mediums. It attempts to create a link between past and future, along with exploring new narrative practices by bringing into play digital mediums. By combining old traditional opera with a current performative medium, it attempts to engage user in a more active form of theatrical experience and, finally, to slightly extend the boundaries of theatrical-based practices.

References

Cixous, H. and Sellers, S. (1994). The Hélène Cixous reader. New York, NY: Routledge.

Clements, A. (2011). Opera in the modern age. [online] the Guardian. Available at: <http://www.theguardian.com/music/2011/aug/20/opera-in-the-modern-age> [Accessed 23 May 2015].

Crusie, J. (2011). Linear Vs. Patterned: A Brief Discussion of Structure. [Blog] Argh Ink. Available at: <http://www.arghink.com/2011/06/02/linear-vs-patterned-a-brief-discussion-of-structure/> [Accessed 23 May 2015].

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Landow, G. and Landow, G. (2006). Hypertext 3.0. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

McLuhan, M. (1964). Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

Pearson, M. (2010). Site-specific performance. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

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