Future of Opera

This roundtable brings together a diverse group of opera practitioners and scholars focusing on the transmedia flow of opera in the twenty-first century.
Picture of Future of Opera

This roundtable brings together a diverse group of opera practitioners and scholars focusing on the transmedia flow of opera in the twenty-first century. The global pandemic offered an opportunity for opera to spearhead innovative transmedia storytelling formats that move fluidly across media boundaries, artistic genres, and geographical borders.

Long considered innovative storytelling formats, site-specificity, VR, and video games have influenced opera in multi-faceted ways, transporting audiences into an “otherworld.” Recently, we have witnessed a shift towards site-specific reimagination of repertory opera (Twilight: Gods by Lyric Opera of Chicago and Michigan Opera Theater), gamification of opera (Yuval Sharon’s Die Walküre Act III, White Snake Projects’ PermaDeath, Death by Life), and a radical re-conception of opera as observed in VR – and zoom – operas (On Site Opera’s Lesson Plan, Kamala Sankaram’s Parksville Murders, all decisions will be made by consensus). Engaging with transmedia aesthetics through the lens of cross-border exchanges, transnational co-productions, and co-creations will offer deeper insights into the distributed mode of creative agency in our contemporary scene today which ventures away from a hegemonic framework.

In doing so, we aim to contribute to new transmedia frameworks in situating opera studies today. Scrutinizing the media integrated into the live productions will lead outwards to a critical issue concerning media as place-making, as well as the intermedial affinities between opera and other remotely delivered compositions in the here-and-now.


Kamala Sankaram, Lecturer of Music at SUNY Purchase College, USA; Co-Artistic Director of Experiments in Opera, USA

Praised as “one of the most exciting opera composers in the country” (–The Washington Post), Kamala Sankaram moves freely between the worlds of experimental music and contemporary opera. Recent commissions include works for the Glimmerglass Festival (where she was the 2022 Composer-in-Residence), Washington National Opera, and Creative Time, among others. Kamala is known for her operas based in Indian classical music (including Thumbprint) and for work pushing the boundaries of the operatic form (including The Last Stand, a 10-hour opera created for the trees of Prospect Park, Looking at You, a techno-noir featuring live data mining of the audience, all decisions will be made by consensus, a short absurdist opera performed live over Zoom, and The Parksville Murders, the world’s first virtual reality opera.) Awards, grants, and residencies include Kaufman Music Center Composer-in-Residence, Jonathan Larson Award, Opera America, HERE Artist Residency Program, the MacDowell Colony, and the Watermill Center.

Website: https://www.kamalasankaram.com/

Ellen Pearlman, Research Fellow at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA; Program Director of Thoughtwork Arts; President of Art-A-Hack™; Director and Curator of the New York Volumetric Society

Ellen Pearlman is a New York-based new media artist, curator, critic, and educator. A Fulbright Scholar at the Department of Mathematics at the University of Warsaw, Poland she has also been a Fulbright Specialist in New Media, Art, and Technology in Latvia and Poland. She is also a Senior Research Assistant Professor at RISEBA University in Riga, Latvia. Ellen has been a Zero1 American Arts Incubator/U.S. State Department Artist to Kyiv, Ukraine, and a Vertigo STARTS Laureate (EU). She received her doctorate from the School of Creative Media at Hong Kong City University where her thesis received the Highest Global Honors from Leonardo LABS Abstracts. Ellen is also the founder and Director of ThoughtWorks Arts, a global technology research lab. She created Noor: A Brainwave Opera and AIBO - An Emotionally Intelligent Artificial Intelligence Brainwave Opera. Currently, she is working on Language Is Leaving Me, An Opera Of The Skin which explores AI, Computer Vision, and epigenetic trauma of cultures of diaspora

Website: epmexico.wixsite.com/ellenpear…

Jelena Novak, Researcher at CESEM, FCSH, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa, Portugal

Jelena Novak’s fields of interest are modern and contemporary music, recent opera, singing, new media, capitalist realism, voice studies, and feminine identities in music. Exploring those fields she works as a researcher, lecturer, writer, dramaturge, music critic, editor, and curator focused on bringing together critical theory and contemporary art. Her most recent books are Operofilia (2018) and Einstein on the Beach: Opera beyond Drama (co-edited with John Richardson, 2019).
Website: cesem.fcsh.unl.pt/en/pessoa/je…

Brian Staufenbiel, Creative Director and Stage Director of Opera Parallèle, USA

Brian Staufenbiel directed and spearheaded the conceptual designs of theOpera Parallèle’s productions since it was founded in 2010. Specializing in multimedia, immersive, and interdisciplinary productions, he actively works across a wide range of artistic disciplines collaborating in film and with media designers, choreographers and dancers, circus and fabric artists, and designer fabricators. Staufenbiel recently directed a film of Dove/Angelis’ Flight for Seattle Opera, a graphic novel opera film of Talbot/Scheer’s Everest with Opera Parallèle, and a feature-length film of Gordon Getty’s opera Goodbye Mr. Chips. Other upcoming projects include a new production of Golijov/Hwang’s Ainadamar for L’Opéra De Montréal and a documentary about the life of Frederica Von Stade with Paper Wings Films. Staufenbiel holds degrees in Philosophy and Music including a Doctorate of Musical Arts from the Eastman School of Music and currently resides in San Francisco.

Website: brianstaufenbiel.sites.ucsc.ed…

Jingyi Zhang, Ph.D. candidate at Harvard University, USA

Jingyi Zhang is a Ph.D. candidate in musicology at Harvard University. Her dissertation examines innovative trends in Indie Opera companies in the North American context and beyond and further engages with site-specific stagings, operatic mobility, media studies, and voice studies. Previously, Jingyi holds a BM and MM in piano performance and musicology at Oberlin Conservatory and Indiana University. She has presented at various national and international conferences. Jingyi’s research is supported by the Sinclair Kennedy Traveling Research Fellowship from Harvard University, the Virgil Thomson Fellowship from SAM, and various grants from Harvard University. Her chapter on comedy in early Chinese sound cinema is forthcoming in The Palgrave Handbook of Music in Comedy Cinema (2023). Jingyi is currently preparing an edited volume on opera dramaturgy with Routledge, with the working title The Dramaturgy of an Opera, which reflects her ongoing interest in erasing the boundary between the artistic and the scholarly in opera studies.

Website: https://jingyizhangpiano.com

metaLAB is partnering with the Mahindra Humanities Center to sponsor the Transmedia Arts Seminar, chaired by metaLAB Principal Researcher, Magda Romanska, and metaLAB Affiliate Ramona Mosse.