Red Threads in Music Theatre

This e-magazine is a collection of essays on the experience of sound and music in the theatre, specifically in music theatre. This project was realized as a result of the MA module entitled "Concepts in Music Theatre" at the Theatre Institute of Amsterdam, under supervision of Dr. P.M.G. Verstraete. The course aimed at helping the students to develop theoretical concepts as tools to discuss contemporary music theatre in its most wide-ranging definition and practice. The complex developments of music theatre make it significant to look at how this continuously redefining and ‘becoming’ art form addresses present-day audiences in relation to traditions in theatre, opera, and other artistic practices of intermediality. These developments urge for new or alternative perspectives to conceptualise music theatre performances for analysis, reflection and stimulation of new work.

The aim of each of the essays in this online magazine is to reflect on contemporary music theatre through concepts that prompt from within the performances that are analysed. Inspired by the image of the red woollen thread in one of the new music theatre performances entitled The Open Road (2008), which the authors witnessed at Korzo Double MiXeD! in The Hague, the essays take you on a journey of at least three conceptual threads. One thread of essays theoretically engages in sound-image relations, which are called into question by 'acousmatisation': the splitting of sound from its source body. In this thread, the authors connect the concept of acousmatisation (and its twin concept, 'ventriloquism') to recent discussions of intermediality, hypermediacy, post-dramatic theatre, opera dramaturgy and the problem of translation to the stage in both theatre and opera. A second thread of essays calls for a conscious historical outlook, taking opera as the 'looking glass' through which both theatre and music theatre have developed. Considering opera as music theatre's looking glass in its eternal self-definition, the reflections in time also call for a reconsideration of the similarities in aeshetic experience between opera and music theatre, as well as the constructive confusions between them. Among the concepts discussed here are music theatre's envy of opera's 'orphic theme', the use of 'musicalisation' and 'polyphony' on the post-modern stage as a way to break with the tradition of (operatic) drama, and 'logocentrism' on which new opera work still seems to keep an eye. And a final thread of essays evokes some philosophical and phenomenological reflections on the status of the text (libretto), time (repetition), immersion, synaesthesia and nostalgia as concepts of 'intersensory' experience in what one could call perhaps an 'audio theatre' (as a further development of music theatre): a theatre for the ear as much as for the eye. Most of the performances discussed as case studies in the essays were recently to be seen in the Netherlands. Yet, as you are soon to find out, this type of music theatre as part of the postmodern scene seeks for international audiences and critical reflection far beyond national and cultural borders.

I wish you an invigorating journey in reading between the red threads of the concepts and analyses presented in these essays. I hope they will give you a plethora of ideas on this fascinating theatre yet in the making.

Pieter Verstraete

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