Opera cinema: the overture


Joseph Attard, a PhD candidate with the department of Film Studies at King’s, reflects on the first few months of his Collaborative Doctoral Award with the Royal Opera House.


After a short foray into the world of online media, I’ve returned to haunt the corridors of the Strand Campus once again.

My first few weeks back at King’s were actually fairly akin to my old work schedule. Before even officially commencing my PhD, I was hauled up before nine senior members of the Royal Opera House and compelled to give an hour-long spiel about my research. Despite an overlong and slightly flustered presentation, my audience seemed engaged and enthusiastic. Subsequent follow-up meetings with each of the attendees (in addition to short presentations to the company staff and board of directors) kept me coming and going via Covent Garden on a daily basis, bracketed by bouts of amassing ammunition for my literature review.

Once these meetings had wound up, I relaxed into the stereotypical, bookish isolation of the PhD student for the remainder of November. The aforementioned literature review now stands at about one-third complete, but at 15,000 words, it may need some pruning.

I have also been intermittently involved with the college’s social science training centre (KISS-DTC), attending a series of workshops on project design and archival research, with another on qualitative data analysis due next semester. As a committee member for the Language, Media and Culture theme, I boast partial responsibility for our £1000 annual budget. A workshop on interview technique and a symposium on audiences have been discussed, but as they’re still at formative stages, I’ll hold off on disclosing any more details until my next post.

Model for Andrea Chénier

Model for Andrea Chénier

This period of relative calm is finally beginning to ebb. Starting 12 December I have been observing the rehearsal process for Andrea Chénier, Umberto Giordano’s biographical opera of the eponymous French poet, who was beheaded during reign of terror. I’ve already attended the model showing, which (if you aren’t of the theatrical persuasion) is exactly what it sounds like. The stage directors, costumers, principal cast and I were shown exquisite, detailed miniatures of the stage set (one of which I almost inadvertently destroyed on the way out). The director, David McVicar, kindly gave his leave for me to sit in the rehearsal process, despite his personal distaste for cinema relays.

I have also had several meetings with my co-supervisors at the Royal Opera House: Associate Director, John Fulljames and Managing Director of Enterprises, Alastair Roberts. Happily for me, they broached the subject of free access to performances, meaning I can enjoy unlimited access the finest opera in the world – it’s a hard gig sometimes… A guest pass also gives me the run of the Royal Opera House building (a labyrinthine monstrosity so architecturally sadistic its corridors have to be colour-coded.)

joe-roh-accessFinally, I am in the process of designing a pilot project at the Royal Opera House, in which a pool of uninitiated respondents will lose their operatic virginity both in the auditorium and at the cinema. John and Alastair (ever conscious of audience development) seem keen on the idea, which I am hoping to put into practice sometime in the spring semester. Hopefully, this will also provide some much-needed fodder for my upgrade from MPhil to full PhD status in June.

I must say, I hadn’t thought of this term as especially hectic until I was asked to summarise its contents in 500 words. Despite the rather breathless tenor of this post, the title feels like an overstatement. Forget the overture; I’ve barely started tuning up!

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