Opera as Japanese Culture: Creativity, Modernity and Heterogeneous Social Expression in Japanese-Composed Opera

Costello, Padraic
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[Honolulu] : [University of Hawaii at Manoa], [December 2016]
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This thesis deals with the agency of Japanese composers who create and produce new opera, stemming from the European opera tradition, in both Japan and abroad. Specifically, I examine the creation of opera through four cultural processes. Opera creation can be understood as historically malleable within Japan, as domesticated through physical internalization and display, as altered through language into a decentered form open to multiple modes of cultural expression, and as crafted through the juxtaposition of opposing sound spectrums, suggesting the heterogeneity, rather than homogeneous collapsing, of available musical materials.. These processes are all intertwined, and position opera creation as a flexible method of expression that allows composers to embrace modernity while simultaneously challenging the dynamics of “Westernization” as a process of modernization in Japan. Historically, opera has been produced and enjoyed in Japan as one of several methods for certain Japanese audiences to embrace “Western” culture, in order to be modern and enhance social prestige. Although groups of Japanese consumers and producers of opera still engage with the genre as a means of participating in this prestige and Western modernization in the 21st century, I suggest that the creation of new opera by composers is a process of challenging opera as a predominantly “Western” mode of cultural expression, while articulating Japanese culture from within a globally engaged Japan. In the process of decentering opera from its European origins, composers challenge the dominant theoretical frameworks of Orientalism and hybridity as inadequate in considering musical and cultural interaction for Japanese creation. Writing opera is a process of actively shifting the cultural logic of opera, and of resituating traditional Japanese culture, society, and aesthetic within the context of modernity, rather than an either-­‐ or of rejecting tradition for modernity. The process of creating new opera in Japan can also be seen as an increasingly vibrant rejection of Orientalism and cultural homogeneity in favor of a growing, continually recoded, and diverse Japan, allowing for new possibilities of self-­‐expression. Particularly in the post-­‐war era, many composers have embraced myriad framings of “Japan” within opera, together constructing a kaleidoscopic imagining of Japanese identity. Through processes of historical framing, domestication, diversification, and cultural juxtaposing, composers claim ownership over opera as a means of social expression within the context of Japan. By considering opera creation by Japanese composers through these cultural processes, I argue that these new operas challenge dominant conceptions of opera as an inherently “Western” construction, while allowing composers to embrace and define Japan’s modernity for themselves.
M.A. University of Hawaii at Manoa 2016.
Includes bibliographical references.
Padraic Costello, Japan, Opera, Appropriation, Modernity, Agency, Kata, Domestication, Hybridity, Globalization, Orientalism
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Theses for the degree of Master of Arts (University of Hawaii at Manoa). Music
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