The Deadness of Live Opera

Saturday, February 9, 2019 - 10:30

Chapter by Christopher Morris published in Foellmer, Schmidt and Schmitz (eds), Performing Arts in Transition: Moving between Media (Routledge, 2018). 

Observing a performance live (in the flesh, in the space, at the time) is not the same as observing performance in the preserved form of an audio-visual artefact. Yet, rather than address this difference and productively harness it, research on operatic performance has often treated the recording as a transparent medium and overlooked its mediality. In this chapter, Christopher Morris affirms the need to consider this mediality and acknowledge the distinction between the live event and the recording. At the same time, he also challenges one of the assumptions that seems to underpin these claims: that the live performance is primary (the thing itself), the recording a mere trace, a remnant – secondary. Specifically, Morris draws on the notion of ‘deadness’ as articulated recently by Stanyek and Piekut. In coining this term, the authors stress that their goal is not to locate a binary opposite to liveness but to unsettle the presence/absence binaries characteristic of much performance theory. It is to recast traditional arguments about mediatized remnants of performance by rethinking the very conditions of performance and its purported presence. In other words, the focus shifts from what is ‘lost’ in the act of storage to what we imagine we had or gained or possessed in performance in the first place.