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P rojec ting t h e voice : a u die nc e r e s po n s e s to ICT-m e dia t e d
con t e m po r a ry op e r a Lin, Y a n d Willia m s, AE
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Tit l e P rojec ting t h e voice : a u die nc e r e s po ns e s to ICT-m e dia t e d con t e m po r a ry op e r a
Aut h or s Lin, Y a n d Willia ms, AE
Typ e Article
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P u bl i s h e d D a t e 2 0 1 4
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Projecting the Voice: Audience responses to ICT-mediated contemporary opera
Yuwei Lin and Alan E. Williams
School of Arts and Media University of Salford
In this paper, we outline the conception, design and performance of a contemporary opera at MediaCityUK (MCUK) in September 2012 and its simultaneous streaming to nearby digital screens. We evaluate the project's success as measured by a mix of qualitative and quantitative methods during the rehearsals and the performance at MCUK. As one of the few social studies of contemporary classic music in Britain, our practice-led research on how this contemporary opera and its audience at the premiere sheds light on how to develop new audiences through employing new digital technologies.
Introduction Methodology Methods for Audience Analysis Preliminary Analysis of the Quantitative Survey Data Preliminary Analysis of the Qualitative Data Discussion: Audience types and dynamics Conclusions and Future Studies
Existing research on opera audiences focuses on capturing the reception of conventional operas staged in an enclosed theatre. But how will the development of digital technologies that allow operas to be screened in distributed environments or to be staged in virtual environments change or transform audience experiences? Will Information and Communication Technologies (ICT)-mediated opera performances attract more contemporary audiences given the widespread adoption of ICT in modern times? Will audiences find virtual operas equally immersive? Will audiences respond to viewing digital operas broadcast across distributed sites in the same way as going to the cinema? How will contemporary audiences adjust their opera / music consumption behaviours as a consequence of rapid technological evolution?
These questions are relevant because increasingly we see opera and theatre being distributed outside single-site venues. For example, National Theatre Live, the National Theatre's groundbreaking project,
broadcasts theatre live from the London stage to cinemas across the UK and around the world. It would be interesting to discover how an audience’s experiences and behaviours differ when attending operas in different environments (in all respects: from dress codes, formal behaviour through to use of second screen technology and so on).
These questions are also crucial for understanding audiences in a complex media landscape. It has been suggested that there is a decline in attendance for operatic events. Many studies have been commissioned to understand why, and to provide recommendations for interventions to address this perceived decline. For example, in Edinburgh, Scottish Opera (SO) has commissioned The Audience Business to conduct research into the reasons behind this decline, and to delineate marketing recommendations for the coming seasons.1 The Sunderland Empire Theatre/Scottish Opera Audience Development Programme, part of a five-year project, focused on how to increase opera audiences, especially among young people aged 15-30.2.
In a similar light, this paper, based on a pilot study, looks at what encourages past and current opera audiences to attend, and contextualises the decline in attendance within a wider opera context and a wider arts context, in order to establish the broader preferences and opinions of current opera audiences. It will also set out recommendations that will help colleagues in music plan their short-, mid- and long- term promotion in the UK. More specifically, we are using some sociological methods to ask whether streaming opera performances in real-time could help diversify and develop audiences.
The research contributes to understanding the relationship between a contemporary opera performance and audience. The production of a contemporary opera is a complex piece of work of art itself. The production team usually consists of composers, performers, director, conductor, musicians, project manager, stage designer and sound technicians. Whether or not the audience can appreciate the art presented by the production team is difficult to measure. As Perricone (1990) suggests, “aesthetic situation is complex”.
“It is not just the artist, his vision and technique; it is not just the work of art, a static museum piece: form, content and expression; in addition the work of art indicates an attraction, a charge as it were between creators and appreciators that exist to keep both alive. Perhaps the work of art metaphorically produces a sort of bonding agent with properties such that the things it glues together are more dynamic than had they existed alone. What the nature of this dynamism might be is central to any philosophy of art.” (p.199)
In order to address the questions raised above, we take the performance of a new chamber opera, Stefan and Lotte in Paradise, as a case study. As a newly commissioned opera receiving its premiere, it enables us
1 http://www.theaudiencebusiness.org.uk/audience-business-reports-library.php? r=4cee9513c8cb3 &h=Scottish+Opera+Understanding+Lapsed+Audiences.
http://www.takingpartinthearts.com/content.php?content=1263). http://www.takingpartinthearts.com/content.php?content=1263. http://www.theaudiencebusiness.org.uk/audience-business-reports-library.php?r=4cee9513c8cb3&h=Scottish+Opera+Understanding+Lapsed+Audiences. http://www.theaudiencebusiness.org.uk/audience-business-reports-library.php?r=4cee9513c8cb3&h=Scottish+Opera+Understanding+Lapsed+Audiences. http://www.theaudiencebusiness.org.uk/audience-business-reports-library.php?r=4cee9513c8cb3&h=Scottish+Opera+Understanding+Lapsed+Audiences.
to study how audiences receive and engage with a new piece of work. Moreover, as its premiere took place in a new venue for opera – the University of Salford’s building in MediaCityUK – it provided the opportunity to study an audience with no history of attendance at that particular venue. The venue also enabled two simultaneous performance experiences to take place: one in the relatively traditional setting of the Digital Performance Laboratory, a black-box theatre space with large projection facilities; and one viewed in an open foyer space via an assembly of digital screens. The storyline, focusing on the last years in exile of Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig, explored themes of isolation and migration. By utilising the facilities at MediaCityUK, we experimented with the efficacy of distributed performance in communicating a narrative with a potentially strong emotional impact.
Development Process for the Opera
The information below about the conception, design and production of the opera will provide a better understanding of how this opera serves as a good case study for understanding the extent to which contemporary audiences appreciate ICT-mediated opera.
It also illuminates how the questionnaire was designed, what data the researchers could were able to collect, and how the methods used to collect data, before, during and after the opera performance.
Commissioned by the University of Salford with co-funding from Arts Council England, Stefan and Lotte in Paradise was a free one-hour performance, co-composed by one of the authors of this article, composer Prof. Alan Williams with Brazilian composer Dr Marcos Lucas, to a libretto (text) by Philip Goulding. The opera chronicles the last few months of the life of Austrian Jewish writer Stefan Zweig and his wife Lotte, who both committed suicide in 1942, in despair at the future of humanity and the rise of Nazism.
At one time the most translated author in the world, Zweig was forced to leave Austria in 1934 soon after the rise to power in Germany of Hitler, living in England and New York before moving to Brazil in 1940. The libretto for Stefan and Lotte in Paradise deals with the themes of persecution, migration and exile, while the music includes fragments of Zweig’s collection of scores by Mozart, Schubert, Brahms and many other composers which are now housed at the British Library. In its instrumentation (violin, clarinet, cello and cimbalom) it makes a clear reference to Klezmer, an Eastern European Jewish folk music genre; and it also explores the sounds of Brazilian music. Ins