Theses Doctoral

Distant Pasts Reimagined: Encountering the Political Present in 21st-Century Opera

Forner, Jane

I focus on four operas premiered in Europe and the United States between 2009 and 2016 in which elements of the medieval, ritual, ancient, religious, and mystic emerge through their source material: ๐˜ˆ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜ฎ ๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ ๐˜Œ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ: ๐˜ˆ ๐˜‹๐˜ช๐˜ท๐˜ช๐˜ฏ๐˜ฆ ๐˜Š๐˜ฐ๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ๐˜บ (2015, Norway), by Cecilie Ore and Bibbi Moslet; ๐˜’๐˜ข๐˜ญรฎ๐˜ญ๐˜ข ๐˜ธ๐˜ข ๐˜‹๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข (2016, France), by Moneim Adwan and Fady Jomar; ๐˜“๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ (2009, USA) by Anthony Davis and Allan Havis, and ๐˜—๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ฆ ๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ (๐˜“๐˜ช๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ต๐˜ฉ) (2013, Austria), by Peter Eรถtvรถs and Albert Ostermaier. This dissertation argues that these operas, rather than seeking a renaissance or rebirth of the mythic, draw inspiration and narratives from what I am calling โ€œdistant pasts,โ€ reimagining universal or โ€œtimelessโ€ narratives of humanity through a specific contemporary lens in an explicit and deliberate interrogation of the political present. Mapping out different modes of staging these distant pasts in response to cultural and political change in the twenty-first century, I suggest new modes of conceiving adaptable operatic โ€œnetworks of comprehensionโ€ that encompass the multiple subject positions and geographical and cultural contexts that shape opera today. Each opera is presented as a case study in a single chapter, balancing musical analyses with political, historical, and cultural critique. Interviews with โ€œstakeholdersโ€ (composers, librettists, singers, directors), many of which I conducted, form an integral part of this process. My analyses explore these four operasโ€™ unconventional attitudes towards time, narrative, and drama, and in probing each operaโ€™s idiosyncratic relationship with its distant pasts, I chart the complex manifestations of recent political discourse in Europe and the United States, especially concerning the intersection of feminism, race, religion, and secularism.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Forner_columbia_0054D_16006.pdf Forner_columbia_0054D_16006.pdf application/pdf 10.5 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Lewis, George E.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 24, 2020