"Documentary Opera: Archives, Identity, and Politics in Contemporary American Opera"
Dissertation Advisor: Gundula Kreuzer
My dissertation, titled “Documentary Opera: Archives, Identities, and Politics in Contemporary American Opera,”
traces the growing trend of American operas since the year 2000 that combine archival and primary materials with operatic conventions. Similar to the wide range of work encompassed under the label of documentary theater, documentary operas can draw on a variety of source materials, such as court documents, oral histories, and firsthand written accounts. My work explores the intersection between different documentary media and the identities these materials represent. I argue that by building upon multilayered simultaneous media, opera’s inherent artificiality expands the representation of reality in documentary work. For creators of color, documentary materials give authority to their narratives, and by harnessing this credibility, they incorporate a sense of familiarity and belonging that aids in diversifying the demographics of a historically white-dominated institution. Moreover, given the musical nature of opera, I posit that documentary operas endeavor to capture a specific historical context through sound and to illustrate the affordances of music in foregrounding particular stories and perspectives. Combining theatre and performance studies approaches with theoretical frameworks from documentary studies, critical race studies, and opera studies, I demonstrate how American contemporary documentary opera presents a subversive means of cultural performance for historically marginalized artists.
The Oxford Handbook of the Television Musical, edited by Raymond Knapp and Jessica Sternfeld (Oxford University Press, forthcoming).
In 1922, George Gershwin and Buddy DeSylva premiered a “jazz opera” entitled Blue Monday on Broadway with blackface performance practice and the use of racial slurs. Forming a hybrid genre between opera, jazz, and musical drama, Blue Monday employs parody to exhibit the tensions between “high” and “popular” culture of the time. In 1953, the television series Omnibus broadcast the piece – since renamed 135th Street – as a tribute to Gershwin, with producer William Spier scrubbing the libretto clean of racial slurs and employing an all-black cast for the first time. While 135th Street presented a new genre of theatrical entertainment that appealed to the American public and to Omnibus’ mission to advocate for the performing arts, I argue that the Omnibus 135th Street hardly erased the problematic racial positions of the original version. Implications of racial parody and blackface minstrelsy remain intertwined with the musical score, the characters, and the parody of opera itself, offering insight into the effects of changing societal values on the relevance and social appropriateness of operettas and opera-parody hybrids beyond the time of their composition.
"Reading Between the Lines: A Case for an Operatic Omar"
Dramaturgical Article, Boston Lyric Opera, May 2023
Commissioned for Boston Lyric Opera's program for Omar (2022), by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels. This production was Omar's Northeast premiere.
"Omar: A Guide to the Opera"
Educational Guide, Boston Lyric Opera, May 2023
Co-written with Lucy Caplan. Commissioned for Boston Lyric Opera production Omar (2022), by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abels. This production was Omar's Northeast premiere.
"Voicing Quietness: Madama Butterfly and the Perception of East Asian Women"
The Butterfly Process, Boston Lyric Opera, April 2022
Commissioned as part of Boston Lyric Opera's Butterfly Process, this essay explores the damaging stereotype of "quietness" towards East Asian women and its relationship to opera. This essay highlights trailblazing East Asian sopranos and their portrayals of Cio-Cio-San, examining their reviews in contemporary news publications. Foregrounding personal views, this essay adds to the chorus asking for careful reconsideration of what it means to stage Puccini's Madama Butterfly today.