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Love to Death: Transforming Opera

Tristan and Isolde - copyright Bill CooperWhy attend a live musical performance when you could stay home and listen to a recording? What can the cultural politics surrounding Verdi and Puccini tell us about creativity and ageing? What is the significance of a historical conductor’s complex relations with the Third Reich?

These are some of the many issues that will be addressed at free public events taking place at the Wales Millennium Centre as part of an international academic conference.

Love to Death: Transforming Opera, organised by the Cardiff University School of Music in collaboration with Welsh National Opera and incorporating the annual conference of the Royal Musical Association, takes place at Wales Millennium Centre from Thursday 31 May 2012 to Saturday 2 June 2012.

The conference is themed around Welsh National Opera’s performances of Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde and Puccini’s La bohème, with the works of both composers providing major themes for debate.
Public highlights include the keynote address given by Linda and Michael Hutcheon (University of Toronto). A married couple, Linda is Professor Emeritus of English and Comparative Literature and Michael is Professor of Medicine. They work collaboratively and across their very different disciplines on the intersection of medical and cultural history, using opera as their vehicle of choice.WNO

Their talk, at 5pm on 31 May, will follow the cultural politics of Italian opera in the late-nineteenth century, as the mantle passed from the ageing Verdi to the younger Puccini.  The talk will be chaired by Professor Joanna Latimer from CAScIOPE (Cardiff University Ageing, Science and Older People), a multi-disciplinary research network spanning a number of Schools at the University.

Events on Friday 1 June will explore operatic staging. At 12.45pm there will be an opportunity to gain an insight into the issues in production today as Annabelle Arden, director of WNO’s new production of La bohème will be in conversation with Rhian Hutchings, Director of WNO MAX.

RMALater in the day, a public round table discussion at 4.15pm will examine Staging Opera Today and ask the questions: What is the relationship between music, text and staging from the point of view of a director, or an academic? How can we reconcile the commercial value and marketability of different stagings with historical and research perspectives? How does staging affect the singer and their interpretation of their role? The session will be chaired By Simon Rees (Dramaturg at WNO) and panellists will include David Pountney (Artistic Director of WNO), the international bass soloist Matthew Best (singing King Marke in Tristan und Isolde) and a number of academics from US universities.

Award-winning Canadian/British singer Kathryn Whitney will give a lecture recital at 1.15pm on Saturday 2 June on the experience of live concert performances and the musical exchange that takes place WMCbetween performers and audiences. She will explore this through a series of experimental song performances designed to demonstrate the character and quality of liveness, and to show why and how liveness may facilitate the creative exchange of musical content between performers and audiences.

On Thursday 31 May at 1pm, Roger Allen (University of Oxford) will consider the significance of Wilhelm Furtwängler as conductor and political figure. Furtwängler is widely considered to be one of the twentieth century’s greatest operatic conductors but, although never a member of the Nazi party, the morality of his decision to remain working in Germany during this period has been continually debated since his death.

Dr Clair Rowden, Lecturer in Music at Cardiff University and chair of the conference committee, said: “The conference, held in the world-class home of Welsh National Opera, is an excellent opportunity for us to bring together scholars, musicians and the general public to reflect upon the impact that academic research can have in a wider performance and reception context.”

A limited number of free tickets are available for all these events. To secure your place, call WNO on 029 2063 5030 or email

For more information on the Love to Death: Transforming Opera conference, visit

Top photograph: © Bill Cooper