Theses Doctoral

Beyond the Music: The Contemporary Operatic Scenography of Robert Wilson, Achim Freyer and Karl-Ernst Herrmann

Kara, Ewa

Contemporary operatic scenography has been undergoing broad aesthetic, theatrical and technological transformations. My dissertation analyzes the work of three key designer-directors—Robert Wilson, Achim Freyer, and Karl-Ernst Herrmann—in order to investigate the changing relationship between the visual and the theatrical in contemporary opera, as well as opera’s place within current trends in theatrical design and broader visual culture. Combining an analysis of current productions with wide-ranging archival research, I reconstruct and explore these artists’ individual stylistic development and their mutual influence. Through this focus on the hybrid figure of the contemporary designer-director, I address two key historical changes in operatic culture: first, the greatly increased importance of scenography and visuality in global opera and second, the emergence of new scenographic idioms, which have rapidly displaced the dominance of historicist and realist conventions in staging. Throughout, I show how Wilson, Freyer, and Herrmann’s work has been central to the development of a “new international style” in operatic scenography. Combining close visual analysis with historical contextualization, I examine how this style—characterized by abstraction, rich colors, striking lighting and radical theatrical effects—has transformed the look of opera, while also framing these developments within the longer history of modernist scenography, and the long-standing tensions between stylistic innovation and aesthetic traditionalism.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Aronson, Arnold P.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
May 12, 2015