Bild: Detalj från ”Woman in Black at the Opera” (1879) av Mary Cassatt
Bild: Detalj från ”Woman in Black at the Opera” (1879) av Mary Cassatt

After the much-noted “performative turn” in the humanities, the diverse field of opera studies seemed destined to move into a new paradigm. Widely read studies like Tom Sutcliffe’s Believing in Opera (1997) and David Levin’s Unsettling Opera (2007) promised a more refined approach to operatic production, dramaturgy and mise-en-scène, while Carolyn Abbate, Elisabeth LeGuin and others argued for the necessity of making bodily presence and liveness the key concern of opera scholarship. Against this background, the conference “Opera and Performance” aims to map a wide array of current positions in opera studies: To what extent have the concerns and methodologies of performance studies impacted current research on opera? Have notions of performance and event replaced the traditional focus on the operatic work, or have these perspectives merged into new syntheses? What is the current state of the debate pitting liveness and presence against meaning and interpretation? What is the role of the body and its movements in scholarship that emphasizes dance, gesture and choreography as vital components of operatic performance? What status do concepts of media and mediation have in opera studies today? Furthermore, how do these methodological issues relate to recent developments in the art of opera, such as stagings that operate beyond the dichotomous clichés of Werktreue and Regietheater; experimental forms of music theatre that take place outside the grand institutions of mainstream opera; and operas intended to be experienced through digital media?


The conference is open to anyone and free to attend, but registration is required. If you wish to attend, please send an email to

“Opera and Performance” is sponsored by Oxford University Press and the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.

Preliminary Programme

Friday 30 June

9.00–9.30 Coffee and registration
9.30–10.15 David J. Levin (University of Chicago), ”’Dies Bildnis ist bezaubernd schön’? Opera in the age of its digital reproducibility“

Laura Tunbridge (Oxford University), “Exterminating the Recording Angel”

11.00–11.15 Coffee
11.15–12.00 Suzanne Aspden (Oxford University), “Opera-going as performance”

Clemens Risi (Friedrich-Alexander Univ.), “Opera in performance – ‘Regietheater’ and the performative turn”

12.45–14.00 Lunch

Johanna Ethnersson Pontara and Joakim Tillman (Stockholm University): “Puccini’s Tosca and the narrative and performative aspects of music in opera”


Arman Schwartz (University of Birmingham), “Is minimalist opera theatrical?”

15.30–15.45 Coffee
15.45–16.30 Christopher Morris (Maynooth University), “Opera studies after humanism”

Saturday 1 July

9.30–10.15 Mary Ann Smart (University of California Berkeley), “Radical Staging and the Habitus of the Singer”
10.15–11.00 Magnus Tessing Schneider (Stockholm University), “Whatever happened in Donna Anna’s bedroom? A study in vocal Theatricality”
11.00–11.15 Coffee

Axel Englund (Stockholm University), “Benjamin’s Angels: Reaching for opera through Written on Skin”

12.00–12.45 Lydia Goehr (Columbia University), "Picture this: Or how to think through the arts of opera”
12.25–14.00 Lunch
14.00–14.45 Alessandra Campana (Tufts University), “2057: A utopian turning back”
14.45–15.00 Coffee

“Operatic ontologies in the 21st century” – Roundtable discussion with contributions by: Heather Wiebe (King’s College), Gundula Kreuzer (Yale University), Wayne Heisler (The College of New Jersey) and Ryan Minor (Stony Brook University)