- Opera. Complete Archive (Vol. 1 [February 1950]–)
Transitions into the digital world are far from uniformly motivated or realised. Some are driven by the technological possibilities of new media; some seek new audiences; some come about as the result of financial hardship; but all raise intriguing questions about preservation and access. Discussions of the digitisation of various encyclopedic and lexicographic publications in the July 2016 issue of this journal (Vol.63, no.3) highlight the mutual influence of these analogue and digital technologies upon one another and their users. The digital archive of the British publication Operawent online last year. In this review, I consider the ways in which Opera's digitisation, as an especially intangible medium, reinforces the motivation of the material original: to form a community amongst opera lovers.
When he greeted his readership in the first issue in February 1950, the Earl of Harewood knew exactly for whom he was writing: 'the intelligent opera-goer'. From the beginning, the reader of Operawas expected to have a preexisting interest in the art form that would be receptive to a particular hybrid of criticism and practice: musical and historical analysis of operatic phenomena would feature alongside behind-the-scenes insights from opera's creators, production reviews from around the world, and an exhaustive calendar of events, both domestic and international. Towards the end of his editorial, Harewood made the didactic intent of the publication explicit:
Our conviction . . . remains unaltered, that the narrowing of the repertory spells eventual death for opera, and that the public in England is worse informed on the developments and trends of opera than on any single other branch of art. Not much can be done on paper, but we shall hope that the names at least of the most important non-repertory pieces will be well known to our readers before long ( Opera1, no. 1[February 1950].)
Perhaps 'not much can be done on paper', but in 1950, there were few alternatives. Print media was a vital means of community building, reinforced by the dialogic potential of features such as letters' pages and classifieds. Today it is a somewhat different story. The future of the newspaper and magazine industry is quite precarious: on 31 December 2012, for example, the last print edition of Newsweek, the eighty-year-old U.S. current affairs magazine, hit the shelves; it now exists only online. Other publications supplement their printed issues with a robust online presence, one that, almost by definition, valourises immediacy, often at the expense of other journalistic values.
Operaentered the digital realm in October 2016. A print subscription to Operanow includes access to the entire digital archive. Between February and November 1950, publication was sporadic, but by the end of that year, the monthly schedule had settled. At the time of writing, the archive consists of 817 issues, which, from 2006, include special issues, in addition to the monthly magazine, on festivals, opera DVDs, Pavarotti, the International Opera Awards, and volume indices. A digital-only subscription is also available for a reduced fee. The online magazine can be read on the Web site of Exact Editions, the company responsible for Opera's digitisation, or by using their 'Exactly' app.
If 'not much can be done on paper,' what, then, can be done online? With my twenty-first century sensibility, I have been preconditioned by exposure to online magazines, blogs, and social media to have certain expectations of digital media. And so, when I opened the pages of Operaonline, I envisaged embedded audio and video content, hyperlinks to related articles, and comments galore: media-richness reflective of opera's fluctuation between the material and [End Page 310]the ephemeral. Yet digitisation does not have to equate to a different discursive mode. Operawas not acquiring a blog or other exclusively online medium, which demands a particular style of content generation. After another moment...