The title of this special issue, 'Operatics,' calls to mind the intricate workings of opera - the dynamic relationship between source text(s), libretto, and musical score as well as the technological and physiological labour that makes possible operatic production and performance - and opera's powerful capacity both to rework particular narratives and historical moments and to work on audience members through varied modes of reception. The word also playfully attests to the histrionics of opera: the theatrical excess inherent to the genre in its often lavish fusion of music, lyrics, gesture, and stage spectacle; the affective impact of operatic adaptation; and the impassioned debates triggered by specific productions, composers, and operatic texts and modes that are taking place in the media, at academic conferences, in the lobbies of opera houses, and in the popcorn line at the Metropolitan Opera's 'Live in HD' broadcasts. Whether dissecting the Regieoper phenomenon, Robert Lepage's Ring cycle, or the Met's radical expansion of opera audiences through the 'Live in HD' phenomenon and the resultant transformation of the ways in which audiences, directors, and artists confront the genre, these debates seem to be hinging increasingly on the 'operatics' of opera.
'Operatics' is also the name adopted by an interdisciplinary working group that gathered at the Jackman Humanities Institute at the University of Toronto for three years (2009-11) under the leadership of Sherry D. Lee to explore questions related to operatic adaptation, mediation, and reception and, in particular, to consider how the experience of opera in different media and performance contexts impacts our response to and our critical reading of opera as both sound and spectacle. Comprising undergraduate and graduate students and faculty members from the Departments of English and History and the Faculties of Music and Medicine at the University of Toronto, the working group met regularly to discuss assigned readings, opera performances (both live and HD), and to share work in progress. Each year culminated in an interdisciplinary symposium that opened up the working group's [End Page 797] key areas of focus - the workings of opera, operatic mediation, and opera's fusion of the sonic and the visual - to wider audiences. In addition to featuring traditional conference presentations, as well as the work of invited keynote speakers Mary Ann Smart, Clemens Risi, Stephen McClatchie, and Richard Leppert, these symposia made a point of further deepening the active work of 'Operatics' through collaborative exploration of the topics at hand, notably through the creation of an online document produced in advance of the 2010 symposium by members of the working group and of Mary Ann Smart's graduate musicology seminar at the University of California, Berkeley. This document, which strove to develop a critical vocabulary for operatic methodologies, became the focus of a session that featured an extensive video conference with the students at Berkeley. As such, the questions of mediation, reception, and production so central to the working group were themselves built into the fabric of the symposium.
The work of 'Operatics' in turn had a profound impact on programming for the corresponding seasons of the Opera Exchange, an innovative conference series based at the University of Toronto which we (the Humanities Initiative of the Munk School of Global Affairs) co-organize with the Canadian Opera Company and which has been bringing together leading scholars to elucidate selected operatic texts from a range of disciplinary perspectives for nearly ten years.1 Each of the three annual conferences aims to foreground the 'workings' of an operatic text currently being staged at the Canadian Opera Company - and the impact that the production's interpretive lens has on audience members - through individual papers that help to animate the opera's historical, literary, and musical dimensions as well as panels featuring members of the Canadian Opera Company's creative team and discussion of live performances by understudies and the young artists of the Ensemble Studio. Each symposium is certainly designed to immerse and inform, but the very title of the series, 'The Opera Exchange,' testifies - like 'Operatics' - to our expectation that our audiences will engage actively and creatively with the material...