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‘Performing realism’: A practice-led study of contemporary realism in the staging of opera

Davis, Benjamin 2019. ‘Performing realism’: A practice-led study of contemporary realism in the staging of opera. PhD Thesis, Cardiff University.
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This study examines the notion of realism as a mode of expression and how it can be applied to contemporary operatic staging. It emerges in response to recent research into the value of the arts to individuals and society, developments in the digital diffusion of opera and significant experiments within the field of cultural studies − Jameson’s Antinomies of Realism (2013) and Den Tandt’s On Virtual Grounds (2015). I posit opera productions as containers for dialogic interactions and reflect on the reciprocity of theory and practice in relation to my own directorial methods, my practice of Buddhism, and ‘practitioner definitions of realism’ extrapolated from semi-structured interviews with professional colleagues across operatic disciplines. My first auto-ethnographic case study focuses on an international co-production of Handel’s Ariodante where I assert that staged operas are a form of cultural cartography, uniquely positioned to test the contractual terms of realism because of their heightened idiomatic form. I proffer performance as cultural orienteering; performers embody, and audiences navigate operatic material through a transformative relationship with narrative, place and performance spaces. In a second case study, I critically reflect on my own processes of generating a semi-staging of the contemporary opera Written On Skin, by George Benjamin and Martin Crimp, as a distillation of its world premiere production cartographies. The chapter explores the liminoid nature of performance in which there is a conscious presentation of material to be embodied and interpreted, as a form of creative resistance to the evacuation of production values. My original contribution to knowledge is a practice-based investigation of contemporary opera staging from the point of view of revival director as well as introducing the term ‘performing realism’: a theoretical frame for understanding trans-historical issues of working in a dialogical realist mode. I argue that the concept of ‘performing realism’ increases awareness of how values and ideas about the ‘real world’ are embodied and staged within and beyond the opera house.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Date Type: Completion
Status: Unpublished
Schools: Music
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature of music
M Music and Books on Music > MT Musical instruction and study
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 9 March 2020
Last Modified: 11 Dec 2020 02:28

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