Echoes of the Avant-garde in American Minimalist Opera Public Deposited

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  • March 22, 2019
  • Ebright, Ryan Scott
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Music
  • The closing decades of the twentieth century witnessed a resurgence of American opera, led in large part by the popular and critical success of minimalism. Based on repetitive musical structures, minimalism emerged out of the fervid artistic intermingling of mid twentieth-century American avant-garde communities, where music, film, dance, theater, technology, and the visual arts converged. Within opera, minimalism has been transformational, bringing a new, accessible musical language and an avant-garde aesthetic of experimentation and politicization. Thus, minimalism's influence invites a reappraisal of how opera has been and continues to be defined and experienced at the turn of the twenty-first century. Echoes of the Avant-garde in American Minimalist Opera offers a critical history of this subgenre through case studies of Philip Glass's Satyagraha (1980), Steve Reich's The Cave (1993), and John Adams's Doctor Atomic (2005). This project employs oral history and archival research as well as musical, dramatic, and dramaturgical analyses to investigate three interconnected lines of inquiry. The first traces the roots of these operas to the aesthetics and practices of the American avant-garde communities with which these composers collaborated early in their careers. The second examines how the non-traditional modes of communication used by these operas--whether narrative or technological--restructure the relationship between spectator and performer. The third line of inquiry takes a political approach, focusing on how these works perform exceptionalist notions of national identity. Through the construction of interdisciplinary frameworks that draw on theories of drama, narrativity, film, and sound studies, this dissertation presents a nuanced profile of the evolution of American opera. It also offers a musically-oriented perspective on cultural constructions of American identity, thus contributing to a growing body of scholarship on American exceptionalism. Finally, this dissertation documents the avant-garde's continued legacy as its aesthetics, practices, and politics transfer across genre, time, and space.
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  • In Copyright
  • Katz, Mark
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Graduation year
  • 2014

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