“Radical Staging and the Habitus of the Singer”
Mary Ann Smart (UC Berkeley)
Among viewers sympathetic to Regietheater and those who abhor the shock effects of radical staging alike, the default attitude to operatic acting has been to take seriously the vision of the stage director, while dismissing the contributions of singers as melodramatic, repetitive, conventional. Gestures such as the hand clutched to the heart, the clenched fist, and the broadly extended arm convey easily legible emotional states and also position the body to enhance vocal production, and these movements are so deeply ingrained in singers’ practice that they surface even in productions staged by the most iconoclastic directors. This lexicon of stock gestures presents a distinct channel of operatic communication, which runs in parallel with–and can sometimes contradict or supersede—the interpretive concept of the director. Drawing on early work in anthropology and sociology that studies the ways ordinary, unconscious gestures can communicate both participation in and resistance to a community, this paper approaches operatic gesture as a dialect and suggests ways to read its messages about the social and affective world of a production.
Made possible by support from the
William E. Valente Endowment in Music.