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Telling Operatic Stories: Race, ethics, and authenticity

Telling Operatic Stories: Race, ethics, and authenticity

RIGOLETTO - Giuseppe Verdi; Opera North, new production; Grand Theatre; Leeds; 20 January 2022.;

Series Convenors:

Maggie Kubanyiova (School of Education, ETHER),

Ariana Phillips-Hutton (School of Music),

Edward Venn (PI, School of Music).


In recent years, the opera industry and academic study of opera have grappled with the ethics of presenting stories on the stage. Controversies over racial depictions in recent productions around the world have demonstrated that such critical reckoning is timely and urgent. At stake are questions of how (and which) audiences listen, of who has the right to tell certain stories, and how organisations facilitate or inhibit authentic creative voices.

Such questions animate and underpin this Sadler series proposal, which is focused on, but not limited to, Opera North’s upcoming productions of Orpheus (a reimagining of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo in collaboration with South Asian Arts UK and the composer Jasdeep Singh Degun) and Bizet’s Pearl Fishers (a work that embodies the problematics of representation of race and culture). The series convenors bring together expertise in the analysis and narrative interpretation of opera; the ethics and epistemology of contemporary music and society; relationships between literature, memory, race and community, particularly as they pertain to the fields of postcolonial studies and critical theory; and theoretical, methodological and practical explorations of how people of diverse worldviews, past memories and future visions encounter their differences.

The core team will be joined by academic and non-academic partners to address the following aims:

  1. To identify, interrogate, and problematise key issues in the theory and practice of ethical storytelling on the operatic stage, especially with reference to race;
  2. To identify emerging research questions relating to opera, voice and authenticity by drawing on scholarship from different disciplinary perspectives in conjunction with active debates within the music industry;
  3. To explore the potential for innovative research methods and practice to understand and transform theoretical frameworks, discursive practices, and artistic practices relating to opera, race and storytelling;
  4. To work with arts organisation partners to develop ways in which organisational practice and audience engagement activities can be enhanced to generate opportunities and provide representation to marginalised and under-represented groups.

The Series aims to achieve the following outcomes:

  • Identify and develop frameworks for arts organisational practices and audience engagement activities concerning opera, storytelling and race;
  • Establish a collaborative research agenda that interrogates the theory and practice of operatic storytelling and race;
  • Learn from different cultural contexts and artistic traditions and advance theoretical and practical discursive frameworks for managing these encounters ethically.

Events in the series

Webinar 1 – 6 October, 4.30-6pm: Introduction to the Series ‘Telling Operatic Stories: Race, ethics and authenticity’ (The recording of this event is available to view now via this link)

Public Event – 21 October, Bramall Studio, Howard Opera Centre, 5.30-7pm: After Orpheus, After Monteverdi

Webinar 2 – 27 October, 4.30-6pm: Singing a New Song: Decolonising Opera

Webinar 3 – 10 November, 4.30-6pm: Invitations and Collaborations: exploring ethical and artistic encounters in opera

Webinar 4 – 8 December, 4.30-6pm: “Oublions le passé, fêtons ce doux moment!”: Encountering the other in the operatic canon

Online Workshop – March 2023 – Reaching Audiences

Webinar 5 – March/April 2023 date tbc

March–May 2023: Exhibition: ‘Opera North and Race’: University of Leeds Library Education Room

May 2023: Project Symposium, Howard Assembly Rooms