How do new models of operatic production, including digital mediation and site- specificity change the way opera is funded, attended, and perceived in the twenty-first century United States? Steigerwald Ille’s research explores how contemporary performances of experimental operas draw in new audiences by reconstructing the institutional narrative around the genre of opera and its intended audiences. Although previous scholarship by Ryan Ebright and Sasha Metcalf significantly recognizes innovative models and atypical funding structures under which twenty-first century opera is produced, there remains significant work to be done with regards to the implications of these new models of production on performers and audiences alike.
The book project, Hipster Opera: American Identity, Digital Media, and Experimental Performance fills this gap by engaging with past and current productions put on by three different ensembles. It also examines the work resulting from three different companies and/or collaborations: The O17 and O18 Festivals produced by Opera Philadelphia, the 2013-2019 work of the Los Angeles-based experimental opera company The Industry, and the 2018 David Lang, Diller Scofidio + Renfro collaboration, The Mile-Long Opera. The project examines what stories are being told about the genre of opera through experimental operatic performance. This process of mythmaking highlights a number of contradictory themes about opera in the twenty-first century: technological innovation versus the intimacy of live performance, corporate patronage versus artist-driven organization, cultural capital versus community access, and conflicts about the nature of urban space. Operatic performance reveals not only fault lines in American identity and culture, but also reflects both performative attempts at co-presence and startling intimacies in the digital age.
The work represents an important methodological shift in opera studies. While contemporary and historical operatic performance have long been an object of musicological study, my ethnographic focus on the individuals who are a part of the American opera industry provides an essential lens with which to study operatic ecosystems that promise to redefine audience-performer relationships. By focusing on the experiences of performers, producers, and audiences who perform and support experimental, artist-driven companies, my scholarship reflects the current concerns and experiences of the professionals creating and supporting artistic production. Techniques of innovative performance such as digital interfaces, immersive performance, and participation draw in audiences interested in spectacle and innovation; my work fills in the gap between creative ideas and implementation to examine how and to what effect audiences and performances experience innovative modes of operatic performance.