CURRENT RESEARCH

Storytelling in Opera and Musical Theater is the first systematic exploration of how sung forms of drama tell stories. Through examples from opera's origins to contemporary musicals, I examine the roles of character-narrators and how they differ from those in literary and cinematic works, how music can orient spectators to characters' points of view, how being privy to characters' inner thoughts and feelings may evoke feelings of sympathy or empathy, and how performers' choices affect not only who is telling the story but what story is being told. Unique about my approach is my engagement with current work in analytic philosophy. I reveal not only the resources this philosophical tradition can bring to musicology but those which musicology can bring to philosophy, challenging and refining accounts of narrative, point of view, and the work-performance relationship within both disciplines. I also consider practical problems singers and directors confront on a daily basis, such as what to do about Wagner's Jewish caricatures and the racism of Orientalist operas. More generally, I reflect on how centuries-old works remain meaningful to contemporary audiences and have the power to attract new, more diverse audiences to opera and musical theater. By exploring how practitioners past and present have addressed these issues, I offer suggestions for how opera and musical theater can continue to entertain and enrich the lives of 21st century audiences.

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My next book project explores how recent Indigenous-led opera in Canada is exploring new models of operatic authorship and new conceptions of the operatic work and of opera itself. For instance, Calgary Opera commissioned Kwagiulth/Stó:lo mezzo soprano Marion Newman to develop a new work, giving her a blank slate as to the topic, her collaborators, and how they would work together. Rather than a single composer at the helm, Namwayut began with Newman, a singer and dramaturg, who engaged multiple composers, Ian Cusson and Parmela Attariwala. Whereas singers are typically given a fait accompli to perform, Newman and the other singers were involved in the compositional process, where their voices held authority equal to that of Cusson and Attariwala. The creation of Namwayut goes against 150 years of operatic practice, which was governed by a strict separation between the processes of composition (undertaken by the composer and librettist) and performance (led by the conductor and director). The singers’ involvement in the compositional process renders them authors not only of performances they participate in but of the work being performed.

I have also published on the American musical and film music. “Rethinking the Diegetic/Nondiegetic Distinction in the Film Musical” (Music and the Moving Image 2017) exposes problems with the use of the terms diegetic and nondiegetic in connection with film-musical numbers.​ As a replacement, I define two scalar concepts, one tracking the number’s level of realism, the other its degree of formality. I am also contributing a chapter to the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Shakespeare and Music on Korngold’s score to A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1935).

This research has been supported by