Texas D • Thursday afternoon, 4:00–5:30

Seminar: Time in Opera

Kunio Hara (University of South Carolina), Laura Möckli (Bern University of the Arts), Colleen Renihan (Queen’s University), Conveners

Gwyneth Bravo (NYU Abu Dhabi)

Trauma, Temporality, and Telos: The Legacy of World War I in Erwin Schulhoff’s Opera Flammen and the Figure of Don Juan as Ahasuerus

Michele Cabrini (Hunter College, CUNY)

Lully and Quinault Reading Ariosto: Temporal Simultaneity in Roland

Kelly Christensen (Stanford University)

Returning to a Musical Past Tense

Sabrina Clarke (Temple University)

‘Where Everything is Silent’: Time, Memory, and Fate in Dallapiccola’s Il prigioniero (1948)

Yayoi Uno Everett (University of Illinois at Chicago)

Allegory and Fractured Temporality in Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel (2015)

Dan Wang (University of Pittsburgh)

The Timing of Liberal Political Fantasy (Some Textures from Opera and Film)

Abstracts

Trauma, Temporality, and Telos: The Legacy of World War I in Erwin Schulhoff’s Opera Flammen and the Figure of Don Juan as Ahasuerus

Gwyneth Bravo (NYU Abu Dhabi)

In a diary entry from 1918, the composer Erwin Schulhoff, having returned from military service in the Austrian Army to face the grim political and social realities that were a legacy of the war, identified himself as the Wandering Jew when he wrote, “I now begin the eternally desolate life of Ahasuerus.” The theme of a deathly tired hero condemned to roam the earth until Judgment Day must have resonated deeply with the young soldier Schulhoff who returned to an uncertain future in Prague after four years on the front lines where he had been wounded twice and suffered from nerve damage. The conception of immortality as eternal punishment, central to the legend of Ahasuerus, not only suggests the despair characterizing Schulhoff’s outlook after World War I, but it also provides the thematic backdrop of his 1929 opera Flammen: eine musikalische Tragikomödie in zwei Akten zu zehn Bildern. Nowhere in his oeuvre is the hopelessness and collective trauma of the post-World War I context more powerfully articulated than in this work.

The opera features a jazz-dancing, twentieth-century Don Juan in his erotic encounter with La Morte, which unfolds in ten loosely related “pictures” constructed on the aesthetic principles of cinematic montage. In a radical departure from the original ending of the Don Juan legend, where the protagonist is sentenced to eternal damnation and death, Schulhoff’s opera “concludes” when his twentieth-century Don Juan is sentenced to eternal life as the work’s opening “Notturno” returns at the conclusion, musically circumscribing him within its closed formal telos and his fate. Drawing on Schulhoff’s diaries and critical writings, my paper examines the large-scale formal and determined structure of the opera as a basis for raising fundamental questions about the work of art in the context of modernity as well to explore the contested place of Jewish-German intellectuals and artists in the post-World War I culture of Prague to which Schulhoff belonged.

Lully and Quinault Reading Ariosto: Temporal Simultaneity in Roland

Michele Cabrini (Hunter College, CUNY)

In 1741, the Parfaict brothers criticized the opera Roland by Quinault-Lully. They attacked its verisimilitude at the end of act 3, where a loud divertissement celebrates the union between the lovers Angélique and Médor. They argued, “how could Roland, who is searching everywhere for Angélique, not know about such an event? Most assuredly, it was not Ariosto who led Quinault to the edge of this cliff; on the contrary, Ariosto has Angélique and Médor leave very secretly.” Although aimed at verisimilitude, their criticism reveals another aspect: a fundamental temporal rift between parallel plot lines reflected in the opera’s structure, where the first three acts focus on Angélique, the last two on Roland.

This paper addresses temporality and structure in Roland, arguing that the aesthetic choices by Quinault-Lully can be attributed to their adoption of Ariosto’s narrative techniques, particularly parallel plots. First, the opera’s unique structural bifurcation reflects temporal simultaneity in Orlando Furioso, where “two concurrent lines of action (Angelica’s and Orlando’s) occur as spatial trajectories, without any temporal order” (Gianni Celati). Lully enhances the temporal gap between the opera’s two halves with a monumental chaconne at the end of act 3. With its cyclic organization, the ground bass replaces teleology with a mythic time that collapses past, present, and future, separating the lovers’ pastoral universe from Roland’s epic and commemorating their love ad infinitum. Second, in acts 1–3 Quinault transforms the quicksilver narrative rhythm of Ariosto’s canto I with its repetitive triangular scheme—Angelica hunted by two knights competing for her hand—into a series of parallel scenes that involve three characters, in which one eavesdrops on the others. This allows temporal simultaneity while yielding the impression of narrative separation. Finally, crucial information about Angélique and Médor is revealed well after their narrative exit in act 3. In act 4, Roland discovers their love—first in the cave’s inscriptions, then through the shepherds’ divertissement that evokes their union. Quinault thus lets Angélique’s narrative intrude into Roland’s, keeping the two plots alive and concurrent. This analytical method shows how Quinault and Lully transformed the narrative process from epic to opera.

Returning to a Musical Past Tense

Kelly Christensen (Stanford University)

Music typically speaks of what is happening now. A newly composed piece might provoke one to remember something prior to it, by way of external references or internal recurrences. But presently unfolding musical discourse, yet unfinished, is the context in which an aural presence sounds as if past. Carolyn Abbate popularized the linguistic metaphor of a musical “past tense” when she argued music cannot constitute or project events as past (Unsung Voices, 53). Music expresses its meaning in a present immediacy. Despite troubles around tensing time, I concur with Abbate’s suggestion that musical discourse is stuck in a presentness, though only if one remains within her study’s limit of authorial inscriptions. In addition to the object-based time a composer marks in her score, there exists a subject-based time a listener experiences. The latter concerns the temporal distance necessary for a subject to reconstitute her experiences into a narrative. Recently in music studies, Naomi Waltham-Smith (2017) has explored this temporality in her account of “the time it takes to listen,” a third time in the midst of immediate musical experience and temporally extended structural understanding.

The concepts of subjective time and musical pastness I bring to bear on the case of opera revivals. In 1840s Paris, Adolphe Adam reorchestrated a series of pre-Restoration opéras-comiques, then considered outdated, for revival productions at the Opéra-Comique. I argue these temporal hybrids, simultaneously old and new, condition the possibility to hear newly composed musical material as a narrative entirely of past events. My case study is a retouched score of Nicolò Isouard’s Cendrillon (1810) which the Opéra-Comique reprised in 1845. For a primed listener, Adam’s actually sounding music plays against the mute but attended sound of a past musical world, closed off to the listener’s lived present. Through the voice of Adam’s new orchestration, one hears a narrative of already-happened musical events, constituting what Abbate’s framework might consider a musical past tense.

‘Where Everything is Silent’: Time, Memory, and Fate in Dallapiccola’s Il prigioniero (1948)

Sabrina Clarke (Temple University)

Luigi Dallapiccola once described the period from 1938 to 1948—marked by the implementation of the Racial Laws in fascist Italy—as ten years spent “in spirit with prisoners” (1953). The centerpiece of his resulting protest triptych, Il prigioniero is perhaps best known for the hauntingly disillusioned “La libertà?” of the final scene, an ending that contrasts sharply with the deus ex machina typical of rescue opera. Largely neglected is the opera’s temporality, specifically its evocations of nonlinear time.

Linear time in music has long been associated with “goal-oriented” tonality, and nonlinearity with atonality (Kramer 1988; Noller 1994). Drawing from the work of Kramer and others (Reyland 2013; Dalhaus 1982; Kern 2003; Reiner 2000; Almen and Hatten 2013), as well as Dallapiccola’s own writings, I situate the twelve-tone technique of Prigioniero alongside theories of musical narrative and nonlinearity.

Dallapiccola’s use of nonlinear time is owed in part to authors James Joyce and Marcel Proust, whose prose strategies he found directly analogous to the twelve-tone system. Nonlinearity in Prigioniero is achieved through a complex nexus of borrowing and self-quotation, leitmotif, structural symmetry (the palindromic structure of the opera) stylistic juxtaposition (the “tonal” sound of the Freedom row, or contrapuntal techniques like canon), and rhythmic and metrical effects like schwebend (floating) rhythms, expansion and compression figures, durational layering, and proportionalism. Moreover, plot elements in Dallapiccola’s self-written libretto involve the audience in nonlinear development.

Drawing from the work of Samuel (2005) and others, I demonstrate how the opera’s “claustrophobic” quality contributes to its nonlinearity. The relative brevity of its one act in four scenes—spanning just one hour in length—is juxtaposed with the psychological torment and chronophobia of the Prisoner. Ambiguities and multiplicities of time, place, circumstance, and character abound, including the uncertain presence of the Mother in the prologue; the juxtaposition of the Spanish dungeon and fascist Italy; the association of the Inquisition and the World War; and the double persona of the Jailer/Grand Inquisitor. The interpolation of the off-stage chorus creates temporal, spatial, and social juxtapositions that result in overwhelming simultaneity and the expansion of the temporal present.

Allegory and Fractured Temporality in Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel (2015)

Yayoi Uno Everett (University of Illinois at Chicago)

In Walter Benjamin’s late writing on Baudelaire, allegory arises through an intuitive apprehension of the world and an inner experience that is fragmentary and enigmatic, characterized further by abrupt discontinuity and change of referentiality. Taking cues from Benjamin, this paper focuses on sonic moments that take a sharp allegorical turn in Thomas Adès’s The Exterminating Angel (2015). In adapting Luis Buñuel’s 1962 film El ángel exterminador for opera, Tom Cairns’s libretto retains the surrealistic fabula of the film narrative, while Adès’s music mocks the impropriety of high-class elites through the distortion of musical topics, time, and place.

The fractured temporality of the opera structures the narrative in distinctive ways. Adès creates a caesura in time, marking off the chronological passing of time (i.e., striking of church bells) from the surrealistic ruptures and cyclical repetition of events that signify an otherworldly presence. The initial greeting of guests (“Enchanted” passacaglia) repeats for no apparent reason and then grows into a terrifying “march” featuring the Ondes Martenot and percussion at the end of Act I. In the subsequent scenes, Adès satirizes the hapless elites through fragmented and discontinuous allusions to the Viennese waltz and marks their descent into madness and savagery through engagement with familiar conventions (e.g., Ragôut aria, “Panic” fugue, Berceuse, Witches trio). Exact reenactment of events from the dinner party eventually releases the characters from the spell and they are joined by their families outside the mansion. In the concluding scene, however, the static repetition of the Requiem chant shadowed by the Ondes Martenot suggests that escape is but an illusion for all involved. The Ondes Martenot’s uncanny presence as the voice of the Exterminating Angel leads us to wrestle with the opera’s allegorical significance at several registers: is it a commentary on the oppression of the Franco regime or a surrealistic fantasy that plays on one’s fear of entrapment? In concluding, I will explore the intersection between this opera and others in constructing a broader framework for relating allegory with fractured temporality in contemporary operas.

The Timing of Liberal Political Fantasy (Some Textures from Opera and Film)

Dan Wang (University of Pittsburgh)

When the Countess unmasks herself near the end of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, skepticism threatens to engulf the possibility of collective experience: “I’m raving,” shouts the crowd, “going crazy! I don’t know what to believe.” Then, after a grand pause, the Count initiates a phrase, the Countess fills in its antecedent, and the crowd renders the melody as a choral texture. The transition between these two scenes captures the difference between what Carl Dahlhaus called “the time of action” and “the time of feeling” in Italian opera. It is also the difference between Henri Bergson’s idea of spatial time (objective, clock-time) and what he called duration—the experience, as of a melody, in which past and future are elided into a single movement.

Bergson’s distinction, this paper argues, allows us to trace the political implications of forms of time in Italian opera. In Figaro, the time of action is also a time in which the world is unknowable, whereas the time of feeling delivers a sentimental recognition that elides the plot’s gender and class struggle. The shift between these forms offers a template for the aesthetics of liberalism. While liberalism, like any mode of political thought, is typically thought of as a set of concepts or ideas—for instance, that underneath difference is essential human sameness, or that recognition of this sameness both generates and stands for justice—it is a shift in operatic texture that captures the felt difference between radical otherness (“I don’t know what to believe”) and empathic social cohesion. I show how the aesthetic contours of this shift continue to articulate crucial political affects in contemporary film, from terrorist panic (Non-Stop) to normative romance (Love Actually).

Rereading Bergson’s distinction between duration and spatial time as indicating not only subjective experience but also modes of political relation, this paper shows how the time of action or of feeling can also be collective or singular, dispersed or convergent. In doing so, it offers language for bringing the analysis of (liberal) political signifiers such as empathy and togetherness into the realm of music analysis.