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

Jane Forner* (Corresponding Author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Other contribution


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: Adam and Eve: A Divine Comedy (2015, Norway), by Cecilie Ore and Bibbi Moslet; Kalîla wa Dimna (2016, France), by Moneim Adwan and Fady Jomar; Lilith (2009, USA) by Anthony Davis and Allan Havis, and Paradise Reloaded (Lilith) (2013, Austria), by Peter Eötvös 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 “distant pasts,” reimagining universal or “timeless” 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 “networks of
comprehension” 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 “stakeholders” (composers, librettists, singers, directors), many of which I conducted, form an integral part of this process. My analyses explore these four operas’ unconventional attitudes towards time, narrative, and drama, and in probing each opera’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.
Original languageEnglish
TypeDoctoral thesis
Number of pages426
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jul 2020


  • Performing arts
  • opera


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