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  • Media Opera/Opera's Media:Elizabeth Kelly's Losing Her Voice
  • Harriet Boyd-Bennett (bio)
  • Lakeside Arts' Djanogly Theatre, University of Nottingham

  • Composer: Elizabeth Kelly

  • Libretto: Elizabeth Kelly

  • Premiered April 6 and 7, 2019

  • Production direction:Martin Berry

  • Digital design: Barret Hodgson, Chris Greenhalgh, and Adrian Hazzard

  • Set design: Francesca Lazell

  • Costume design: Charlotte Dearman

  • Lighting design: Christopher Flux

  • Musical director/conductor: CalumFraser

  • Musicians/ensemble: Mervyn Cooke (piano), Matthew Walker (clarinet), Matthew

  • Herbert (percussion), James Dickinson (violin), Daniel Boucher (violin), Carmen

  • Flores (viola), Kristen Horner (cello)

  • Cast: Susanna Fairbairn (Geraldine Farrar),Marie Vassiliou (Lilli Lehmann), Jeremy Huw Williams (Cecil B. DeMille/Journalist), Andrew Henley (Crown Prince of Germany/Lou Tellegen/Journalist), Chorus

At the opening of Losing Her Voice, Bizet's Carmen is radically reframed in a musical kaleidoscope. Elizabeth Kelly's new opera begins with the dramatic, brash chordal gestures and shimmering scalic figures typical of silent-era film soundtracks. Intertitles on three screens across the stage set the scene: we are in 1880, the founding of the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York City. The company is struggling to make ends meet; the new music director, Leopold Damrosch—hired to reverse the theater's dwindling fortunes—decides that the best way forward (no doubt with vested interest) is to focus on opera in German rather than the usual Italian fare. Enter our first leading character: the famous German Wagnerian soprano Lilli Lehmann, singing Carmen's "Habanera" in German on the stage of the Met. Bizet's melody is quickly distorted and fragmented, the words unravel and morph into a commentary on what is unfolding—a postmodern collapse and disintegration. We are simultaneously in the sound world of Carmen, in turn-of-the [End Page 236] century New York, and in 2019. The sense of musical palimpsest reverberates across what follows.

The start of the second act mirrors this opening, but now we are in the world of silent film ("Hollywood 1915," the intertitre tells us)—specifically at the filming of the "Habanera" scene from Cecil B. DeMille's 1915 Carmen. Now we do not hear Carmen so much as see it. And we see it performed by Losing Her Voice's principal protagonist, the American lyric soprano Geraldine Farrar. The opening of act 1 has here undergone a media translation. The echoes prompt the audience to confront what it means to hear Carmen and then merely to see it: first to witness an opera within an opera and then a (silent) film within an opera. DeMille expresses his own concerns about this translation: "In opera, a host of sins are covered by the voice's glory." What to make, then, of this operatic moment about the loss of the operatic voice—an operatic encasing of the move away from opera?

Carmen in multimedia translation across stage and screen frames and filters Losing Her Voice, premiered with great success at the Lakeside Arts' Djanogly Theatre, Nottingham, on April 6 and 7, 2019. And indeed, multimedia translation is what this opera is all about: multiple translations from stage to screen to stage, from European opera to the American silver screen to a new opera by an Anglo-American, from stage to film to mobile phone. As Kelly herself says of the endeavor, "I seek to take this incredible story of operatic translation into the twenty-first century."1 The idea of "translation" can be carried through on multiple fronts, not just in an interpretation of Kelly's opera, but also in how we respond to it, and what kind of meaningful questions it can pose for us as opera scholars, practitioners, and audiences. For Losing Her Voice both intersects with and confronts a whole host of issues at the heart of current debates in opera scholarship and performance practice: about voice and mediated celebrity, materiality and the body, operatic restagings and updatings, and the technologies of live performance.

Losing Her Voice is based on the life of Farrar (1882–1967), who was famous for her Carmen on the stage and on the silent screen. She was born in Massachusetts, and her career took her—via Germany—all the way to the stage of the Metropolitan Opera. In the process, Farrar...


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