Opera as a Place of Representation

Open to the Public
Nador u. 9, Monument Building
Thursday, October 13, 2005 - 12:00pm
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Thursday, October 13, 2005 - 12:00pm to Friday, October 14, 2005 - 4:30pm

European Opera Houses in the 19th Century in Comparison
Conference within the Project „Oper im Wandel der Gesellschaft”

The conference is co-sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation, Germany, Pasts, Inc. Center for Historical Studies, CEU and the Institute of Habsburg History, Budapest


Thursday, October 13 (CEU Monument Building, Popper Room)

12:00-14:00 – welcome reception at the CEU

14:00 – 14:45  Opening Addresses
Welcome address by Prof. Sorin Antohi, CEU
Welcome remarks by Prof. Philipp Ther, European University of Viadrina
On the concept of the conference: Dr. Markian Prokopovych, Project „Oper im Wandel der Gesellschaft” Budapest

14:45 – 15:00  Coffee break

15:00 – 16:00  Keynote Speech
Prof. Ruth Bereson, University at Buffalo
The Opera and the State

16:00 – 16:15 Coffee break

16:15 – 17.30  Panel I
Representation of Urban Elites: Imperial, Aristocratic, Bourgeois, Other?
Moderator: Dr. Peter Stachel, Austrian Academy of Sciences
Dr. Sven Oliver Müller, EUI Florence / Bielefeld University
Distinction, Difference and Demonstration: The Behaviour of London Opera Audiences in the 19th Century
Prof. Philipp Ther, European University of Viadrina
Representation and Subversion. Opera Theatres as a Means of Emancipation in 19th Century Continental Empires


Friday, October 14.  (Nador u. 11, Room 201, Hanák Room)

9:30 – 10:30 Panel II.
Budapest: Architectural and Musical Representation

Moderator: Prof. Marsha Siefert, CEU
Prof. Mihály Szegedy-Maszák, Institute of History of Hungarian Literature, Faculty of Humanities, ELTE
From the National Theatre of Pest to the Hungarian Royal Opera House (1837-1914)
Dr. Markian Prokopovych, Project „Oper im Wandel der Gesellschaft” Budapest
Pest Opera House and the validity of Gottfried Semper’s Dresden design in the local context

10:30 – 10:45 Coffee break

10:45 – 12:00 Panel III.
Musical Representation and Representation through Music: Problems of Analysis

Moderator: Prof. Philipp Ther, European University of Viadrina
Dr. Des. Jutta Tölle, Humboldt University
Representation and Non-Representation: Opera houses in Northern Italy under Austrian domination, 1848 - 1866.
Dr. Vjera Katalinic, Croatian Academy of Sciences
“Ljubav i zloba” (“Love and Malice,” 1846), The First Croatian National Opera: A Point of Unification and/or a Point of Conflict

12:30 – 13:30 – Guided tour to the Opera House
14:00 – 15:00  Lunch break

15:00 – 16:00 Panel III
National Representation: Historiography
Moderator: Dr. Markian Prokopovych, Project „Oper im Wandel der Gesellschaft” 
Prof. Vlado Kotnik, University of Littoral in Koper-Capodistria
Historiographical Representations of Slovenian Opera Culture: Socio-historical Constructions

16:00 – 16:30  Closing Remarks


Extra programme for October 13-14, 2005:

Thursday, October 13, 2005, 19:00, Opera House: Puccini. “Tosca”

Friday, October 14, 2005, 12:30: Visit to the Opera House. Guided tour of the Opera House Ms. Nóra Wellmann, the Head of the Opera Archive

Saturday, October 15, 2005, lunchtime: Visit to the National Theatre area


Conference Announcement

The long and turbulent 19th century was the heyday of opera, the venue for musical and social experience. Opera not only represented the transition from the prosaic world of every-day-life to the splendid festivity of the ostentatious halls, but also allowed for social differentiation, based on arcane knowledge about music, composers, styles, singers and conductors. The “happy few” could publicly represent their social status by the ways in which they celebrated the event. Both the bourgeois and the aristocratic audiences paid meticulous attention to distinguishing themselves from each other and from the petty bourgeoisie and the working class. The staged music itself was important, but it was only one part of the whole event called opera, often ancillary to public exposure and concealed observation, social contacts, sophisticated conversations, a good dinner and contacts with the other sex.
The educated classes used their allegedly superior taste and public behaviour to attack the aristocracy. The re-evaluation of musical taste and the demure behaviour of listening were politically loaded. The medium of classical music closely corresponded to the worldview and values of the aspiring middle classes, while its harmony fitted the ideal of societal concord. According to these ideas, which gained general acceptance around mid-century, music had to be enjoyed silently; and it was exactly these principles of bourgeois listening behaviour that the aristocracy seemed to lack. Social representation in the opera houses was politics with musical (and other) means that often reached beyond the limits of certain cities or social milieus. With obvious symbols as well as with indirect allusions, one referred to imperial values, democracy, nationalism, race, concepts of masculinity and femininity, sexual morals and social norms. One attacked the imperial centres such as Vienna and their attempts of cultural centralisation, and reached for a wider, national audience.
The architecture of an opera house also speaks of wider social values. Ever since the erection of Gottfried Semper’s Hoftheater in Dresden in 1841, its facade and interior became a model for most of the opera buildings, up to their “mass production” by companies such as Hellmer and Felner. Yet numerous architects working in the shade of Semper in the second half of the 19th century have often followed the form, yet not the content of the radically innovative Dresden design, and thus asserted values other than those intended by Semper. The facades may dominate the surroundings, one may decide on a more conservative rectangular design, a different style of representation may be used (e.g. Neo-Baroque, Secession rather than Neo-Renaissance), in the interior, a more hierarchical seat, lodge and entrance arrangement may take preference to a more egalitarian concept etc. Yet every interior – a traditional box theatre and an “egalitarian” bourgeois opera house – plays certain social functions, while every facade represents values to the outer world.
Representation is essentially a sign, an image or other depiction of something else, as much as it is the process of representing. The arcane knowledge on music would not have been possible without the means of musical representation. In a musical script alone, titles, epigraphs, score annotations, programs and various musical allusions become major tools that help the listener interpret the music. They too refer to various social, national, moral and other values. This of course involves a specific audience able to read into these “extramusical” signs, even if it does not recognise them as worthy. In the 19th century, the techniques such as, for example, tone painting, were perceived as an expressive frivolity, acceptable in small doses but otherwise unappreciated. The recent critique, however, sees them as a key tool of interaction between the music performed and the audience. Thus inherently connected with both musical and cultural processes, musical representation becomes a “basic technique in which culture enters music and music enters culture, as communicative action”(Lawrence Kramer). Representation thus understood becomes a dynamic, culturally conditioned process.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players”(William Shakespeare). It has become a routine to think of the world as a stage with a set of actors who perform roles in front of the audience with all the scenery, choreography and script. Opera was also a form of theatre. It is useful to see a particular space of an opera house as a place where a spectacle gives meaning of an otherwise meaningless experience. In other words, the old metaphor of the theatre as a mirror, microcosm of the outside world may still prove fruitful. This makes an opera house – an embodiment of the theatrical, the musical, the pictorial and the textual – one of the ideal sites to view social organisation in a very consciously representational space.
Finally, the values to be represented through music, building design, performance and the audience behaviour also vary – and change – in time and place. Imperial values may be superceded with democratic and national virtues, while the concepts of race, gender and sexual morals may, or may not, undergo major transformations. This conference seeks to incorporate these issues into a comparative analysis of several European opera houses. We encourage the participants to think of representation as an overarching concept that can incorporate a variety of aspects, formulated broadly in the following questions:
- Who is represented through the Opera (the Royal Court, the aristocracy, the gentry, the middle class (Bürger), the cities, the elites etc.)?
- Who is represented against whom (e.g. Hungarian aristocracy versus the Viennese Court, middle class versus the aristocracy etc.)?
- How do the leading actors represent themselves (the topos of social order, social distinction, stratification of the public etc.)?
- What means of representation are used (architectural planning, ticket policy, attendance restrictions, stage design, repertoire, opera directorship, press etc.)?
- What – and whose – values are being represented (e.g. the concepts of power, nationality, gender, race, sexuality etc.)?
- How and in what way does the stage itself become part of representation?
- Why and how did opera houses become highly contested places of political demonstrations? How was the borderline between art and politics re-defined?


Conference Report
by Markian Prokopovych


The conference “Opera as a Place of Representation,” supported by CEU Pasts, Inc. Center for Historical Studies, the Volkswagen Foundation and the Institute of Habsburg History (Budapest), began on October 13. After the opening addresses (Sorin Antohi, CEU; Philipp Ther, European University of Viadrina; Markian Prokopovych, CEU, conference organiser), Ruth Bereson (University at Buffalo, New York) delivered the keynote speech, “The Opera and the State.” By bringing a variety of historical and contemporary examples from the eighteenth-century Europe to contemporary China, she argued against the claim that the opera has outlived its momentum. She suggested that it remains historically triumphant and culturally significant precisely because the states continue to make cultural, financial and political investments into its maintenance throughout the world.
The concept of the conference was comparative and interdisciplinary, while the focus was (“long”) European nineteenth-century history. The programme featured four panels organised roughly around three different aspects of opera representation: social representation / representation of the public, architectural representation and musical representation. Within these three major themes, other aspects were envisioned, such as the issues related to national identity and nationalism, bourgeois culture and the historiography of the opera studies. Hence the conference panels, “Representation of Urban Elites: Imperial, Aristocratic, Bourgeois, Other,” “Budapest: Architectural and Musical Representation,” “Musical Representation and Representation through Music: Problems of Analysis” and “National Representation: Historiography,” respectively.
At the first conference panel, “Representation of Urban Elites: Imperial, Aristocratic, Bourgeois, Other?” Sven Oliver Müller (University of Bielefeld, Germany) demonstrated how the shift in the listening behaviour throughout the nineteenth century showed different patterns of representation within the London opera-going public (“Distinction, Difference and Demonstration: The Behaviour of London Opera Audiences in the 19th Century”). Philipp Ther concentrated on greater theoretical aspects of dealing with the topic of the opera and representation in “Representation and Subversion. Opera Theatres as a Means of Emancipation in 19th Century Continental Empires”.
At the second panel (October 14), “Budapest: Architectural and Musical Representation,” Mihály Szegedy-Maszák (ELTE University, Budapest and the Institute of Habsburg Studies, Hungary) delivered an outline of the nineteenth-century history of the Hungarian opera in his “From the National Theatre of Pest to the Hungarian Royal Opera House (1837-1914).” Markian Prokopovych dealt with the architectural aspect of representation in opera houses by comparing Gottfried Semper’s theatre designs to the Budapest Opera House (“Pest Opera House and the validity of Gottfried Semper’s Dresden design in the local context.”)
The panel “Musical Representation and Representation through Music: Problems of Analysis”, consisted of the presentation by Jutta Tölle (Humboldt University, Germany), “Representation and Non-Representation: Opera houses in Northern Italy under Austrian domination, 1848 – 1866.” She demonstrated how non-attendance of the Habsburg-controlled major Italian theatres such as, among others, the Milanese La Scala became a tool of symbolic representation for local elites that opposed the Habsburg rule.
The conference reassembled for its last panel, “National Representation: Historiography.” Vjera Katalinic (Croatian Academy of Sciences, whose presentation was moved from the previous panel due to the scheduled guided tour to the Opera House), presented an illustrative case of the historical construction of what is until today considered by some as the first Croatian national opera. She demonstrated how an opera piece using European musical language and strongly influenced by Bellini was interpreted a national artefact. At the same time, it functioned as a source of unification and a source of conflict between Croatian cultural elites in the middle of the nineteenth century (“Ljubav i zloba” (“Love and Malice,” 1846), The First Croatian National Opera: A Point of Unification and/or a Point of Conflict). Vlado Kotnik (University of Littoral in Koper-Capodistria, Slovenia), spoke of “Historiographical Representations of Slovenian Opera Culture: Socio-historical Constructions.” He argued that the contemporary historiography on the opera in Slovenia is strongly influenced by the concepts of the nineteenth-century nationalism. The following discussion on why and how this was the case showed how illustrative is the Slovenian case for general tendencies of writing opera history in the region of central Europe and beyond.
The participants faced several theoretical problems of opera research posed by the conference during the Concluding Remarks. The universal applicability of symbols through time and space, different modes of representation and methodologies of research were at the focus of the discussion. Apart from the aforementioned speakers and moderators, vital contributions were made by Ilona Sarmany-Parsons (CEU), Peter Stachel (Austrian Academy of Sciences), Sarah Zalfen (Berlin) and Stanislav Tuksar (Academy of Music, University of Zagreb and Croatian Academy of Sciences). It was stated that, during the conference, several methodologies were used to arrive at the different kinds of conclusions. Scholars used musicological, historical, art historical, qualitative, and quantitative analyses to explore the various meanings of opera. Several questions would need further elaboration at the following conferences of the project “Oper im Wandel der Gesellschaft”:
- Representation: Can one think of one single methodology to analyse different (?) kinds of representation discussed at the conference? Are representations of public groups/elites, architectural representations and representations through music unrelated entities of academic research?
- Symbolism/Meaning: Can one convincingly speak of the (sufficiently well-defined and stable) meaning of certain symbols throughout time and space? E.g. does the representation of Apollo have the same symbolic meaning in Budapest as in Dresden; does the reference to a certain popular melody or topic signify a nationalist intention; does a belonging to a certain musical school (Bellini, Verdi or Wagner) carry additional symbolic meaning that may not have been intended by the composer/listener?
- National opera: is there a difference between political entities in the meaning of the term, and if so in what way? Can one come up with a Europe-wide 19th-century definition of a national opera and if not, why?
- A / the Opera (term courtesy of Ruth Bereson). Can one provide a universal definition of the term or should one be time- and place-specific? To put it simply, what does the opera include? 
This could involve inquiry about repertory, iconography, legislation about congregation, etc. A more close analysis of commonalities and differences between the cases would be desirable during the concluding remarks. It was decided that further meetings should be organised around more specifically defined topics. These could include the following possible clusters:
- contemporary accounts of the opera houses between 1848 and 1870 (or later)
- the role of the audience and the claque
- censorship
- models of financing / construction / management etc.
- the uses of the opera house
- the role of different genres in forming different public/criticism/politics within the opera (e.g., ballet versus the opera, versus the operetta etc.)
Several prospective joint publications are envisioned outside the project “Oper im Wandel der Gesellschaft” such as in the International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music (Zagreb) and the international collection "Doing Research on Opera" (Slovenia). Future cooperation with Scandinavian colleagues dealing with similar topics is also considered.

Web Reports and Publicity

- The International Federation of Arts Councils and Culture Agencies (IFACCA): http://www.ifacca.org/ifacca2/en/new/DisplayEvent.asp?Id=6366 

- H-Net Humanites & Social Sciences Online: http://www.h-net.msu.edu/announce