David Wiles

David Wiles.

David Wiles, Professor of Drama, University of Exeter, Great Britain.

Drottningholm Court Theater is the grandest theater in all of Scandinavia. If we could grant five stars instead of the mandated three, they would go to this gem of baroque architecture …. The first performance was presented here back in 1766, and the theater reached its apogee under Gustav III. The theater retains its original backdrops and props today. Even the same 18th-century ballets and operas are performed here, the productions authentic down to the original costumes.” [Frommers.com/destinations] My lecture will take place inside the Drottningholm theatre, which was designated a World Heritage Site in 1991. I will address the topic of ‘presenting the past’ in relation to the mythical goal of historical authenticity. I will ask, what is the value of this space as a kind of laboratory to understand the theatre and opera of the 18th century? For certain we cannot replicate, but we can experiment on the basis of different historical premises. To say that this is a ‘baroque’ theatre is already a premise, and use of the theatre is associated with one of the great autocrats of the European Enlightenment, Gustav III. The value of present-day experiment is to challenge our own norms and what we perceive as theatrical common sense. The presence of the Drottningholm Court Theatre is so powerful that work on the stage always feels awkward unless it engages with the unique environment, but in architectural terms the theatre is a field of contradiction. To work on the stage requires engagement with historical otherness, and with the principle that culture is always fluid, shifting and contested. The lecture will be focused around workshop experimentation. Under the musical direction of Mark Tatlow, Laila Cathleen Neuman will present in a historically informed style an aria from a ‘baroque’ Handel cantata. For the performer, is this a matter of submission to a set of gestural rules, or is this about a system where the performer had the freedom to be an auteur? João Luís Veloso Paixão will then explore with me a scene from Pygmalion, an experiment in musical dramatic form by the Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, roughly contemporaneous with the theatre. (The full production ofPygmalion can be seen as part of the conference social programme.) I shall ask how the aesthetics of stage performance relate to fundamental questions raised by Rousseau about the nature of human beings.