French Opera and the Revolutionary Sublime

Lead Research Organisation: University of Nottingham
Department Name: Music

Abstract

When the entire population of Meyerbeer's grand opera _Le Prophète_ (1849) was engulfed by a spectacular exploding palace, following a failed uprising, the tableau was widely received as merging political and aesthetic ideas of 1848 with those of the 1790s, and confirming the end of revolutionary idealism. Such tableaux were a crucial part of the discourse on the unrepresentable nature of revolutionary experience, and were found in operas in the 1790s, the 1820s and the 1850s. This project seeks to establish the nature of the relationship between revolution, cataclysmic operatic tableau and the sublime that emerged in 1790s Paris, and to trace how it evolved during the first half of the nineteenth century at moments of revolutionary crisis. The aesthetic effect of such tableaux and their impact on audiences will be analysed in the context of wider political and cultural experiences, and some of the ways in which these tableaux influenced operatic practices elsewhere in Europe will be identified.

The project brings together three distinct research areas: the relationship between opera and political culture; opera and effect; and exchanges between different operatic traditions. A broadly interdisciplinary approach will be adopted, combining close reading of the music, staging manuals and librettos of individual operas with reception study and precise cultural, scientific and political contextualisation. Exciting scholarship is emerging in the realm of music and science that can help us to understand how such spectacular effects were created, and to theorise the perceptual overload and shock effects that they engendered, which (arguably) triggered the recall of real-life events. Four one-day workshops, in which specific ideas will be analysed from different disciplinary and/or national perspectives, will be integral to the research and dissemination processes: Sensory Perception and Drama; Music and Memory; Opera and Technology in Nineteenth-Century Europe; Travellig Opera.

The principal output will be a monograph, _French Opera and the Revolutionary Sublime_, structured around the tableaux of five key operas by Luigi Cherubini (two), Gioachino Rossini, Giacomo Meyerbeer and Félicien David. It will be the first monograph to examine the impact of the French revolution on the development of nineteenth-century opera, and will situate the case studies a) in the context of France's evolving relationship with the 1789 revolution and its aftermath, and b) in relation to technological innovation and scientific understanding of the senses during the first half of the nineteenth century. Other outputs will include two articles, conference papers, a conference panel (leading to a special issue for the _Cambridge Opera Journal_) and teaching materials. A range of public talks, podcasts, broadcasts and programme notes will disseminate the research findings to a range of audiences via the Royal Opera House, Opera North, the Broadway Cinema (Nottingham), Derby Museum and the BBC, and thus support and inform the increasing interest in staging French grand operas, and in exploring opera's effects and political meanings. A short placement at the Royal Opera House aims to advance the relationship between academic research, creative practice and programming policy.

Planned Impact

The project will a) demonstrate the importance and relevance of grand opera to nineteenth-century culture in its broadest sense, and b) encourage interest in modern revivals/performances of this highly entertaining art-form that has until very recently been neglected by modern opera companies and institutions. The pre-performance talks, broadcasts, programme notes and public symposia (often linked to more familiar nineteenth-century repertory that was influenced by grand opera) will communicate to a wider audience a more complete understanding of nineteenth-century opera and culture, influence institutional practice and policy, and thereby contribute to economic health.

Non-academic beneficiaries will include:

1. General public (local, wider)
The general public will benefit through cultural enrichment, specifically the appeal of a) pre-performance talks (Opera North, live link-ups at Broadway Cinema, Royal Opera House Insight Event, podcasts), b) programme notes (essays for ROH programme brochures), c) broadcasts (Radio 3: feature for Music Matters), d) public symposia (Opera North symposium, involving academics, singers, director), e) public talks (Derby Museum), f) article for a non-academic journal (_Musical Times_).

2. Organisations: Opera companies; Museums and galleries
The project will help transform evidence-based policy, influence and inform practitioners, and enhance the research capacity and skills of businesses and organisations. In so doing, it will increase economic performance and the creative output of a range of institutions over the longer term. For example, recent research into grand opera (including my own) has influenced programming decisions at the Royal Opera House and at the Opéra-Comique (Paris), and has been employed to educate the public through broadcasts, programme notes and pre-performance talks that supported these performances. By this means, something of the popular appeal of such works during the nineteenth century is communicted, and interest in staging further examples is stimulated. Moreover, singers with the experience of performing these works encourage (and make possible) their revivals, and productions of new works in the repertory are programmed. The current project will enable me to strengthen and develop existing relationships with individual companies and to forge new ones (see 1 above), to continue this process of education.

In addition, I will take up a two-week placement at the Royal Opera House, focusing on staging (building on the contacts I have established with the organisation, and activities I have been involved in). This has the aim of establishing new relationships, identifying research synergies, and influencing decision-making - from choice of repertory to details of design and staging - in the longer term. My research on theatre technologies (and pyrotechnical history) will be of benefit to those interested in the history of entertainment (including museums such as the Centre National du Costume de Scene, Moulins; the Theatre Museum (Victoria and Albert Museum), London), and I will make contact with these organisations to develop ideas beyond the life of the project.

3. A level exam boards and University curriculum development:
My research has the potential to influence organisational culture and practices. During my (ongoing) involvement with the Edexcel A level board strategy group for music, I have encountered a demand for different types of music, particularly those involving visual media such as opera, and have the opportunity to influence repertorial content of the course and the methodological approaches and skills taught. At my own institution I have been responsible for raising the profile of opera on the UG and PG curricula through research-led teaching and curriculum development, and recruiting and supporting research students.

Full details of the events are detailed in the 'Pathways to Impact' Statement.

Publications


10 25 50
 
Description During this project (end 31 Jan 2015) I have generated new knowledge, identified new research resources and questions, established new research partnerships, and identified future pathways.

I have also mentored junior scholars - there does not appear to be anywhere on this system to record this valuable direction in which my research has led me.
Exploitation Route The research has opened up new ways of thinking about French opera during the revolutionary and Empire periods.
Partnerships established with Opera North and Royal Opera House will develop.
Sectors Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
 
Description I have used my research findings to enhance public understanding and cultural life, via talks, programme notes, public events, blog posts, discussions, broadcasts. I have contributed to the reputation and outreach goals of non-academic bodies (notably the BBC, Royal Opera, other opera companies and record labels).
First Year Of Impact 2014
Sector Creative Economy,Education,Leisure Activities, including Sports, Recreation and Tourism,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections
Impact Types Cultural,Societal
 
Description Buxton festival 
Organisation Buxton Festival
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution chairing of panel sessions before perfomance of operas at the festival, writing of prgramme notes, hosting of public events before the festival, putting festival in touch with other researchers, setting up student ambassador scheme
Collaborator Contribution platform for me to disseminate my research (prgramme brochure, pre-performance panel), infrastructure and people for public event
Impact porgramme essay (2016), pubic event (2017)
Start Year 2016
 
Description History in the Act 
Organisation University of Copenhagen
Country Denmark, Kingdom of 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I was a consultant at the planning stage (2011), and participated in two conferences. One strand of the project includes developing the theoretical dimension of melodrama studies: consideration of special effects; rehearsal process; audiences; the senses. Another strand includes the traces of performance of opera. I spoke at conference 'Traces of Performance' (Dec 2013), and am a keynote at conference 'The Legacy of Grand Opera' (Dec 2014).
Collaborator Contribution Directing the project, organising conferences. Financial contribution: airfare and accommodation for consultancy and conference, fee for keynote
Impact Conference papers x2 Mentoring the editor of a volume of essays to come out of the Legacy of Grand Opera conference
Start Year 2011
 
Description NORN 
Organisation University of Huddersfield
Department Music, Humanities and Media
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Network of Opera Research in the North Established in 2015 to foster and disseminate mutlidiscipinary collaborative research into opera, and to engage with non-academic bodies.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting a conference: Operatic Immersions (April 2016)
Impact nothing yet, beyond organisation of a conference, and securing of funding to support it.
Start Year 2015
 
Description NORN 
Organisation University of Leeds
Department School of Music
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Network of Opera Research in the North Established in 2015 to foster and disseminate mutlidiscipinary collaborative research into opera, and to engage with non-academic bodies.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting a conference: Operatic Immersions (April 2016)
Impact nothing yet, beyond organisation of a conference, and securing of funding to support it.
Start Year 2015
 
Description Opera North 
Organisation Opera North
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Private 
PI Contribution hosting Inside Opera event for the Opera North Ring Cycle (June 2016) and supplying of a fellow- speaker, writing of material for programmes
Collaborator Contribution people and infrastructure for public events, publication of research in programme notes
Impact Programme notes (2015), public event (June 2016), ongoing discussions for future events and writing
Start Year 2015
 
Description Revolutionary Researchers 
Organisation King's College London (KCL)
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Part of a network of scholars (from musicology, French studies, art history, history, theatre studies) working on the French Revolution; led by PhD students and postdocs. Participate in meetings, reading groups, conferences.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting and organising meetings and conferences.
Impact None as yet.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Revolutionary Researchers 
Organisation University of Warwick
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Part of a network of scholars (from musicology, French studies, art history, history, theatre studies) working on the French Revolution; led by PhD students and postdocs. Participate in meetings, reading groups, conferences.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting and organising meetings and conferences.
Impact None as yet.
Start Year 2014
 
Description Royal Opera House 
Organisation Royal Opera House
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution residency for the rehearsals of _Guillaume Tell_ in spring 2015. Contribution to ROH outreach work via a blog; opportunity to observe and influence creative decision-making; shaping my own research.
Collaborator Contribution Hosting me, providing access to rehearsals, conversations with practitioners, hosting my blog
Impact Blog in 2015; programme notes; contribution to Insight Events
Start Year 2015
 
Description Visiting Scholar, Music in London 
Organisation King's College London (KCL)
Country United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland (UK) 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Attendance of reading groups, symposia, conferences, organised by the ERC-funded Music in London project. Organisation of a conference under their auspices. Contribution to publications.
Collaborator Contribution Payment of travel and accommodation. Organisation of events. Editing essay collections.
Impact Publications: Scenography, spéculomanie and spectacle: Pixérécourt's La Citerne. In: KATHERINE HAMBRIDGE and JONATHAN HICKS, eds., The Melodramatic Moment University of Chicago Press. (In Press.) Good Vibrations: Frankenstein on the London Stage. In: JAMES Q. DAVIES and ELLEN LOCKHART, eds., Sound Knowledge: Music and Science in London, 1800-50 University of Chicago Press. (In Press.) Special issue of _19th-Century Music_ on Music and Science in Paris and London, including: 'Note from Guest Editor'; 'Principles of Geology and Sensory Experience at London's Cyclorama' (2015)
Start Year 2014
 
Description BBC Radio 3 broadcasts 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Live broadcasts for the BBC Radio 3 from the Royal Opera House and English National Opera:
Opera on 3, guest in the box from ROH for Meyerbeer, _Robert le diable_ (15 Dec 2012)
Opera on 3, guest in the box from ENO for Berlioz, _Benvenuto Cellini_ (20 June 2014)
Opera on 3, guest in the box for Chausson, _Le roi Arthus_ (21 Nov 2015)
Interviewed immediately before the opera started and during the intervals, to inform listeners; some personal contact from listeners afterwards; discussion about the productions on social media

Pre-recorded interviews/pieces for BBC Radio 3 around the 200 anniversaries of the births of Verdi and Wagner:
Twenty Minutes: Wagner in France (4 Aug 2013)
Verdi 200: Verdi the Opera Director (12 Oct 2013)
And for a broadcast from ROH of Gounod, _Faust_ (22 April 2014)
My contribution was particularly around the composers' experiences in Paris; some personal contacts from listeners afterwards


Further invitations.
Email enquiries about the content from the public.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2013,2014,2015
 
Description Contribution to BBC4 documentary 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interviewed about French opera for a three-part TV series on music and politics ('Revolution and Romance: Musical Masters of the 19th Century', devised and presented by Suzy Klein for Blakeway Productions), and advised more broadly on content (Episode 2 'Talkin' 'Bout a Revolution' broadcast 14 June 2016)
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Liner notes for CD 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Interviewed the singer Bryan Hymel and wrote liner notes for his new CD (released by Warner Classics), 'Héroïque'
Some interest via email from listeners.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
 
Description Pre-performance talk (ROH) 
Form Of Engagement Activity A broadcast e.g. TV/radio/film/podcast (other than news/press)
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Contribution to Royal Opera Insight Event for Verdi, _Il trovatore_. Live studio audience, also live-streamed and as a podcast
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
URL http://www.roh.org.uk/news/watch-il-trovatore-live-streamed-insight-event-on-15-june-2016
 
Description Pre-performance talks 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Royal Opera House:
Pre-performance talks to c.200 as part of evening Insight Events to inform audiences about upcoming productions (London):
Meyerbeer, _Robert le diable_ (23 Nov 2012) (also released as podcasts on the ROH website)
Verdi, _Un ballo in maschera_ (28 Nov 2014), Verdi, _Il trovatore_ (2016)

Opera North:
Participation in pre-performance panel:
Wagner, _Flying Dutchman_ (Nottingham, May 2015)

Opera Rara (record label):
Public talk about the French opera scores held by the company (London, Oct 2015)

Questions and discussion followed form the audiences


invited to participate in BBC broadcasts
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2012,2014,2015,2017
 
Description Programme essays for national opera companies 
Form Of Engagement Activity A magazine, newsletter or online publication
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Programme essays (c.1500-2000 words) on aspects of operas/productions:
Welsh National Opera: Rossini, _Mosè in Egitto_ (July 2014)
Opera North: Wagner, _Flying Dutchman_ (May 2015)
Royal Opera House: Meyerbeer, _Robert le diable_ (Dec 2012), Verdi, _Vepres siciliennes_ (NOv 2013), Rossini, _Guillaume Tell_ (June 2015), Verdi, _Don Carlo_ (March 2017)
Buxton Festival: Beethoven, _Leonore_ (July 2016)

Audiences range from a few hundred to nearly 2000 at each performance. Occasional follow-up after the performance.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2014,2015
 
Description Ring Cycle public event 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I shall be chairing discussion a part of a panel on Wagner's Ring Cycle, an afternoon event organised by Opera North in conjunction with their performance of the four operas in Nottingham in June 2016.

The event is open to the general public, as well as university students, and will involved discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description Writer in residence at Royal Opera House 
Form Of Engagement Activity Engagement focused website, blog or social media channel
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact I was appointed Writer in Residence (Feb to July 2015) for the ROH production of Rossini's _Guillaume Tell_
I wrote ten blogposts (c.800 words each) for the ROH website, to inform audiences about the forthcoming production, and moderated the discussion that followed the first night. In addition, I advised the producer of the live cinema relay on content for the interval films.

This was a unique opportunity to prepare a targeted readership (via the ROH website) for a rarely performed work. The individual posts each attracted an average of c.700 hits, and the final one following the first night of this controversial production had 8904 hits and 174 comments - it was picked up in the New York Times and the Guardian.

Positive comments on the value my role (presenting information and then moderating the conversation) are found in the comments sections of the blogs, and by email/in person from audience members and the ROH staff. ROH are considering the model for future productions.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015
URL http://www.roh.org.uk/news/authors/sarah-hibberd