Stravinsky’s opera in a postmodern age: an intermedial semiotic reading

McKay, N. (2018) Stravinsky’s opera in a postmodern age: an intermedial semiotic reading. In: Maeder, C. and Reybrouck, M., eds. Making Sense of Music: Studies in Musical Semiotics. Leuven: Leuven University Press. pp. 387-402 ISBN 978-2-87558-640-7

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In response to Taruskin’s (1995, 2003a) new-historicist challenge to Stravinsky’s music and iconic reputation, Van den Toorn (2000) asked the question: ‘will Stravinsky survive postmodernism?’. The battle lines of this debate were drawn between respective contextualist and formalist camps; the latter accused of operating under a mythological belief in the perceived radicalism of Stravinsky’s syntax and a collective blind spot about its troubling semantics. The ensuing syntactic (formalist)-semantic (extra musical) tussle briefly touched upon issues of pragmatics (the effect on the listener) arising from the differing theatre and concert versions of The Rite but largely confined itself to the musical score and historical document.

This already dialogised (syntactic vs semantic) meta-identity crisis over Stravinsky’s music assumes a greater semiotic-hermeneutic complexity when issues of intermedial (Bay-Cheng, 2010; Chapple & Kattenbelt, 2006) pragmatics enter the frame. This is particularly evident in analyses of three Stravinsky opera productions that add startling new layers of signification: Taymour's 1993 film version of Oedipus Rex; Lepage’s radical 2007 staging of The Rake’s Progress and Chaudet’s 2005 computer animated film adaptation for television of Le Rossignol.

Respectively these three productions further dialogise (Hatten, 2004; Korsyn, 1999) Stravinsky’s already double-voiced (Bakhtin & Holquist, 1981) music and drama through the additional intermedial modes of Japanese theatre, Hollywood cinema and surrealist computer animation. Exploring these additional semiotic layers and their effect on the listener-viewer requires detailed analysis of the inter- and multi-media tools at play, their sign-function significations (Eco, 2000; Monelle, 2000) and resulting hermeneutic and pragmatic consequences (Tarasti, 1995).

Taymour’s Oedipus adds masks, puppets, dancing doubles and filmic effects to fuse Cocteau and Stravinsky’s twentieth-century, Parisian neoclassic modernism with the ancient classical cultures of Japan, Greece and Russia. Film camera close-ups both contest and complement Stravinsky's amphitheatre-inspired statuesque presentation, as does the Bunraku , Kabuki and Noh inspired theatrical presentation amid Stravinsky’s ‘salad of clichés’ (Taruskin, 2003b) plundered from the museum of western opera/oratorio (Bernstein, 1976).
Lepage’s Rake transports the Hogarth’s London of Auden, Kallman and Stravinsky’s original Faustian tale to the golden era of American Hollywood cinema with the conceit that much of the action of the opera is being filmed on television, with Nick Shadow, the devil, as the camera operator/director. The cinema becomes both the subject of the production and the mechanics behind it; an intermedial configuration compounded when the staged opera is seen not in the theatre but through DVD/cinematic apparatus (Citron, 2000, 2010)
Chaudet’s Rossignol offers perhaps the greatest intermedial challenge of these three postmodern productions, subjecting Stravinsky’s stylistically disjointed orientalist retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson tale through perplexing phantasmagoric surrealist computer animation that acts more as the soundtrack to the music than vice versa. There are precedents here in the earlier multimedia Disney’fication of The Rite (Cook, 2000) but Chaudet's intermedial grafts further changes and challenges our perception of Stravinsky's work.

To extend Van den Toorn’s original question, this paper considers whether Stravinsky will survive postmodern production and to what extent such new intermediality enhances 'his' music and our perception of it.

Item Type: Book Section
Uncontrolled Keywords: Musicology; semiotics; cognitive sciences; music theory
Subjects: M Music and Books on Music
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature on music
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature on music > ML0159 History and criticism
M Music and Books on Music > ML Literature on music > ML0159 History and criticism > ML3780 Music on particular topics
Divisions: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Music and Performing Arts
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Nicholas McKay
Date Deposited: 20 Mar 2018 11:35
Last Modified: 28 Mar 2018 16:01

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Last edited: 29/06/2016 12:23:00