Aural Dramaturgies: A New Approach to the Operatic Soundscape

Author: ORCID icon
Mueller, Justin, Music - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Will, Richard, AS-Music, University of Virginia

In this dissertation I seek to reorient the way we think about operatic sound. My study is divided into five chapters, and each approaches the idea of what I refer to as opera’s aural dramaturgies from a different vantage point. Using Shakespeare’s and Verdi’s Macbeths as case studies, the first chapter focusses on ‘Texted Sound’ and seeks to explore how composers, playwrights, and librettists encode sonic detail and information in the ‘texts’ themselves. Chapter 2 explores ‘Staged Sound’ by focussing on opera’s libretto and score as a template for performance rather than an unchanging work. I address the acoustic sound design properties of a particular staging of Beethoven’s Fidelio to suggest how performance of sound-as-staged can impact our understanding of works we might otherwise think we know well.

The second half of my dissertation asks questions about our understanding of operatic sound in the age of its technological reproducibility. Chapter 3 serves as a transition and explores ‘Acousmatic Sound’ (a phenomenon whereby we hear sounds without seeing their sources) from several vantage points. I begin by examining the concept in an age prior to modern audio reproduction technologies and then shift to an exploration of how operatic sound was marketed, discussed, and produced once put on disc. Chapters 4 and 5 are conceived as a broad, two-part study on ‘Remediated Sound’. I start by looking at Hans-Jürgen Syberberg’s cinematic adaptation of Parsifal and consider how the tools available to the film director likewise enable a new approach to aural dramaturgy, different from what is possible on-stage. The final chapter explores operatic livecasts: simultaneous high-definition screenings of theatrical events directly to cinemas and other arthouse venues. With a focus on a particular screening of Wagner’s Die Walküre, I analyse the paratextual broadcast material companies like the Metropolitan Opera use to frame these simulcasts and argue that the features, coupled with our physical and theoretical displacement from the ‘live’ performing venue, also affect our acoustic experiences. By shifting focus to these still-undertheorized aspects of the operatic soundscape, my study seeks to show that the artform is capable of affecting us in ways we have yet to fully appreciate.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
opera, dramaturgy, aural dramaturgy, Shakespeare, Wagner, Beethoven, Syberberg
All rights reserved (no additional license for public reuse)
Issued Date: