Capital: A Contemporary Opera in Two Acts




Fraser, Fiona Averil

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Capital is a two act opera which incorporates a range of different stylistic elements as a means of communicating with a broad audience and promoting discourse about the future of the city of Canberra. This dissertation encompasses a detailed exegesis of my research as well as the final score of the opera. Together they are designed to support the proposition that opera can retain a socially relevant role today. Such a proposition sits in stark contrast to statistics that demonstrate a serious decline in interest in all classical music genres in the last few decades. Opera has been reinvigorated at different historical points by embracing heterogeneous elements, engaging interactively with audiences, and addressing socially relevant concerns. Many commentators, particularly Theodor Adorno, have looked to Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute as the ideal model for an opera that both entertains and edifies the audience. This thesis examines the strategies Mozart employed in his iconic opera. It also explores different compositional approaches taken by composers such as Kurt Weill, Leonard Bernstein, Larry Sitsky, John Adams, and Louis Andriessen, designed to achieve similar ends. The defining feature of such works is a willingness to incorporate culturally meaningful musical allusions that represent different perspectives and, through a process of recontextualisation, invite a reappraisal, revealing previously hidden facets of the original material. This approach is consistent with the practice of parody, as described by literary scholar, Linda Hutcheon. Parody was a common feature of the traditional opera buffa genre. It harks back to an earlier era, when music was valued for its functional utility rather than its structural unity or commercial success. Such operas have historically come to be overshadowed by a Wagnerian quest for an organically unified form of art, which, in accord with nineteenth-century aesthetic standards, should ideally eliminate all extraneous material and aspire to express a transcendent spiritual aura. In response to this, many twentieth- and twenty-first-century composers have been seeking to find an alternate role for opera by reclaiming it as an essentially heterogeneous art form that excels at parody. Capital is an opera that sits firmly within the parodic tradition. Like other works examined in this thesis, it embraces opera as a heterogeneous mix of art forms ultimately grounded in the hopes and aspirations of contemporary life. It is a work that favours diversity and debate rather than conformity and unity. It challenges the long- standing paradigm that separates classical and popular music on a hierarchical basis, accepting that both might be legitimate sources for music which seeks to play a functional role in contemporary discourses. By engaging with local issues, and incorporating a unique mix of heterogeneous elements, Capital makes an original contribution to opera in Australia.



Opera, Parody, polystylism, music as discourse, Adorno, Weill




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