- The Aura of Opera Reproduced:Fantasies and Traps in the Age of the Cinecast
Aiming to contribute to an ongoing debate on the relationship between opera and screen media, my article begins by posing a number of questions about the aesthetic and political implications of technological reproduction. I then examine and critique a paradox that pervades our media-saturated culture—namely, that the remediation of musical-theatrical works is often treated as a means of enhancing, rather than of questioning, a sense of authenticity, uniqueness, and presence. This in turn leads me to an analysis of three objects (and three fantasies) in which this paradox, which is bound up with a strange blend of nostalgia and an urge for excess, takes on paradigmatic form. I conclude with a critical reflection on the challenge inherent in recording and broadcasting operatic stage productions. Throughout, I aim to suggest ways of avoiding a fetishization of liveness without, however, falling into another trap—the simple dichotomization of liveness and mediatization.
Chronicle of a Demise Foretold
What are the aesthetic and political consequences involved in the remediation of opera? How does the possibility of translating a musical-theatrical artwork from the medium of stage to the medium of film, video, or television impact its production and reception? Does the audio-visual reproduction of opera entail a democratization of the experience of the genre? Does it contribute to the "decline of aura"—bridging the distance between audience and spectacle, and thus giving rise to new forms of appropriation—as a Benjamin-minded observer might expect and hope?1
In view of the diversity of practices and objects about which these questions may and should be raised, the first thing to acknowledge—an acknowledgment that is not to be mistaken for a rhetorical display of caution—is that a single, unambiguous response is unattainable. There cannot be a unique answer to these questions because the relationship between categories and objects is mutable and diverse. Nowadays, and for that matter since the emergence of synchronized audiovisual media, opera can be not only staged but also filmed. Besides, new operas have been [End Page 266] composed for TV, a handful of them were originally conceived as films, and a few even more recent ones transgress the boundaries between performance, installation, and new media art. To complicate matters further, significant changes have also occurred in the way traditional opera is presented on stage. In fact, besides the multiplication of cameras and screens in new productions, it is now common for operas to be staged with an eye to their future recording or broadcast. DVD and Bluray have long become the most common forms through which stage productions become globally known and gain a reputation. Whether consciously or not, directors bear them in mind while honing their stagings to be as "camera-ready" as possible. This tendency has been exacerbated over the last decade as the opera cinecast phenomenon became prominent.2
One thing is nonetheless clear about the technological reproduction of opera: the proliferation of mechanical and digital techniques to create copies is mirrored by a plethora of discourses commending the virtues of mediatization. Their rhetoric can be quite ambiguous, if not paradoxical. Indeed, the emphasis on, or even the parti pris for copying does not necessarily entail the questioning of originality. The copy may well be praised for its capacity to underline the characteristics of the original; that is, mutatis mutandis, the film or the video of an opera may well be valued for being able to bring the authenticity of the original to the fore. From this perspective, the task of reversing Platonism—as Nietzsche would have put it—might be harder than one thinks. For the cornerstone of Platonism, as Deleuze points out in Logique du sens, is not the separation between the original and the copy, but the separation—and the urge to attain a clear-cut distinction—between the "good" and the "bad" copy: the former aimed at resembling the original; the latter indulging in deviations and detours.3
These reflections are germane to the debate on the remediation of opera. They find echoes in the work...