Traces of Performance: Opera, Music Theatre, and Theatre Music in the Long 19th Century

International Symposium, Sibelius Academy, Helsinki, 11–13 December 2013.


Organizers: The project called The Finnish Opera Company (1873–79) from a Micro-historical Perspective: Performance Practices, Multiple Narrations, and Polyphony of Voices (Academy of Finland), the project Opera on the Move (NOS-HS), Finnish Doctoral Programme for Music Research, and the University of the Arts Helsinki (Sibelius Academy/DocMus).

Keynote speakers: Tiina Rosenberg (University of the Arts, Helsinki), Hilary Poriss (Northeastern University) and Göran Gademan (The Göteborg Opera). 

This conference focuses on how scholars might study musical performances in theatre spaces dating from the past, whether opera, ballet, other forms of music theatre or music incorporated into spoken theatre. What traces have such performances left? What can we make of such traces?

Obviously, performances of the past cannot be conjured up in the present. Yet this does not mean that scholars today should consider once lively performance traditions to be completely inaccessible and closed to research. The temporal distance poses a challenge for researching historical performance cultures, a topic still in need of methodological development, and for recognizing the potential to expand its empirical territory into the ‘dark ages' – before the invention of the gramophone and film. Moreover, there are many other kinds of traces that performances have left, which are accessible and relevant to scholarship: scores and parts (sometimes with performance markings), music manuscripts, mise-en-scène plans, newspaper announcements, reviews and interviews, photographs, personal and business letters, diaries, and archival material from music theatres and theatre managers.

The main conference topics are the following:

1) Methodology. With what methods and their combinations may performances of the past be addressed? Sounds, gestures, and settings cannot be captured in toto, but they may be studied to some extent, albeit often indirectly. We are interested here in different methodological solutions, their limits, and their possible pitfalls.

2) Historiography. This topic will be devoted to research on individual performances or performers, including singers, instrumentalists, and theatre professionals, such as theater staff, stage directors, set designers, costume designers. What were the performances like? What kinds of vocal and musical resources were available? What kinds of theatrical equipment were used, e.g. backdrops, lighting, costumes, props? How were the rehearsals and performances arranged?

3) Re-enactment. The process of reconstructing past performances and performance practices offers new ways of obtaining information. This may take place through artistic means (whether singing, playing, directing, or staging) or in various combinations of historical research and artistic enactment.

4) Free papers. Besides the topics presented above, we are interested in papers that explore other aspects of music theatre or theatre music relevant to the purpose of this conference.

The proposals

Proposals for individual papers (20 minutes + 10 minutes for discussion), lecture demonstrations (45 minutes), and panels (90 minutes) should be sent as abstracts (max 400 words) to along with full contact information for each author. Along with scholarly proposals, abstracts representing practice-based research ('artistic research') are also welcome, particularly for the section on re-enactment.

The conference language as well as the language for the abstracts is English. The deadline for submitting abstracts is 15 September 2013. Authors will be contacted by 30 September 2013 with the acceptance decisions. The organizers plan to initiate a book project on the basis of selected conference papers. The call for articles will be issued immediately after the conference.

Programme Committee: Professor Anne Sivuoja-Kauppala (Sibelius Academy), Dr. Owe Ander (the University of Stockholm), Dr. Ulla-Britta Broman-Kananen (Sibelius Academy), and Dr. Jens Hesselager (Copenhagen University).

Coordinator: Dr. Markus Kuikka