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  • "Opera Cinema, the Modern Gesamtkunstwerk?":Jonathan Haswell, John Fulljames, and Corinne Winters in Conversation with Eleonora Sammartino

The following text is a transcript of a panel discussion that took place at the symposium "Opera Cinema: A New Cultural Experience," hosted by King's College London and the Royal Opera House on June 16, 2017. The symposium, the first of its kind to focus exclusively on opera cinema, invited performers, practitioners, and academics to offer their perspectives on this relatively new phenomenon. Chaired by Dr. Eleonora Sammartino (then a doctoral student in Film Studies at KCL), the panel discussion featured Jonathan Haswell (multi-camera director), John Fulljames (stage director and ROH Associate Director of Opera), and Corinne Winters (soprano).

—Joseph Attard
Eleonora Sammartino:

I wonder if you could all briefly introduce yourselves and your initial thoughts and perspectives on opera cinema?

John Fulljames:

I'm the Associate Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House. I think what's interesting about the level of investment involved in the film team is the value it brings to the eventual product. I think there is a pattern emerging, which is that audiences in cinema are happier with new productions. By which I mean they find it easier to read new productions: they find new productions more legible than audiences in the theater. And the interesting thing is to pick apart the reasons for that. Is it because there's an extra editor involved—something intrinsic to the product? Or is it something about the audience? Something about the way our brains are wired, that we find it easier to read complex, mediated experiences on a two-dimensional screen than we find it to read complex, three-dimensional experiences on stages? Is it that audiences now find it much easier to digest complex ideas on screens than on stages?

What I'm looking forward to, having worked so closely with the [screen] directors on those two projects [La donna del lago (2013) and Rise and Fall of the City of [End Page 343] Mahagonny (2015)], I think, is the opportunity to work even more closely. Where I see it evolving to, is that a director won't be appointed by an opera house. A director will be chosen as part of a creative team. He or she will work along with the production team in the way that, for example, a lighting designer does. And actually, a lighting designer is a very good example. When lighting design started, lighting designers were technicians who belonged to the institution. Now they're an absolutely intrinsic part of the creative team and will be there from the very first conversation between the director and the designer. I imagine that in the end that is where the film director will belong.

Because, from our perspective as a team, the work, the object, isn't just the production. It's also, of course, the mediated version. The mediated version is not only seen by a large audience, but you're very aware as a director that, after the ephemeral moment of the performance, it exists for the next ten, twenty, thirty years as a recorded performance, or it exists online. That's the version of your work that will endure. And that's the version by which your work will be judged, remembered, and continue to have an influence. So I think, eventually, we will end up having aggregated teams, with the film directors as content makers rather than as content relayers. And of course, what's exciting about that is that then they will be part of the process of shaping the production, involved in the discussion over the colour of the wallpaper [in the stage set], the nature of the lighting, and will play an integral part in the production.

Corinne Winters:

I'm an American soprano, currently a London transplant! I've had a unique experience with opera in cinema, because I've performed in both the Royal Opera House and in international opera houses in my HD performances. My upcoming production of La traviata (2017) is going to be broadcast via YouTube, and also in various locations throughout the...


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pp. 343-354
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