In Opera Nova – power, love, remix (ON) 2012, Operaimprovisatörerna investigated ways of deconstructing images of gender and power in opera and opera improvisation performance, by changing roles and using different readings such as realism, parody and movement. I took initiative to the project and we engaged director Elisabet Ljungar, who took on the roll as outer eye, or stage coach. The project was performed in three Swedish cities: Stockholm, Malmö and Vadstena. Kristofer Langerbeck as light designer in Stockholm and Malmö, and the ensemble took turns in setting the lights in the Vadstena performances.

In each city OI arranged a stage conversation, inviting significant actors in opera, theatre, music and media. In the first stage conversation two guests: Gunilla Brodrej and Göran Gateman, started a dialogue which instigated a fervent debate on opera and gender in Sweden during the spring of 2012.

Musico-dramatic concept

The idea was to choose a number of repertoire opera scenes that deal with conflict and de-construct them in order to explore patterns and structures of gender and power in opera and opera improvisation performance. The vocal parts were to be studies by all singers, so that we could make different interpretations in terms of vocal timbre and phrasing. This was also a method for tracking the ”natural” habits we as singers have developed both in singing and in listening.

The selection of scenes was a collaborative e-mail communication process between four of the singers (all singers had been asked to take part) and the director, that took place over a few weeks. Which scenes would be interesting to work with, and to change parts in between female and male singers as well as between different voice types, to adress issues of gender and power in opera improvisation? We decided on choosing mainly duet scenes from famous opera composers, to investigate the interplay between two characters. To make a spectrum of gender relations, we picked two scenes between male and female voices and two between two voices of the same sex. We also tried to choose music from different periods and characters, including baroque, Viennese classical music, romantic music, operetta and veristic opera.

Opera scenes in ON

Opera/OperettaSceneRolesComposer + Year
Giulio Cesare"Piangerò..."CleopatraHändel, 1724
Don Giovanni"La ci darem la mano..."Don Giovanni/ZerlinaMozart, 1787
Don Giovanni “Eh, via buffone…”Don Giovanni/LeporelloMozart, 1787
Maria Stuarda“Morta al mondo…”Maria Stuarda/ElisabettaDonizetti, 1835
Die Fledermaus“So muss allein…”Rosalinda, Adele, EisensteinStrauss, 1874
Carmen“Près des remparts de Sevilla!Carmen/ Don JoséBizet, 1875
Tosca“Salvatelo…”Tosca/ScarpiaPuccini, 1900

Important to note here is that we did not intend to improvise musically in the repertoire scenes, but dramatically and sometimes with words. To some of the scenes, for instance the Tosca Scarpia scene, we added improvisations, aiming to reflect the musical and performative style. We studied the composed vocal parts and only improvised in terms of changing roles, and thereby tessitura. In the Tosca/Scarpia scene, we continued improvising inspired by Puccini’s music.