In defense of Hyunseon’s research on “Madame Butterfly”

오페라, 영화, 문학에서의 Madam Butterfly모티브의 변용 (이현선, 2015.4.1.)

I still remember when I barely managed to arrive the Oesol-Building in Yonsei University. My TA work finished at 12, but this guest lecture started at 12… Fortunately, I arrived Room#526 before she began to speak (thankfully) due to a mismatch between computer softwares.

A title of this lecture was ‘Metamorphosis of Madame Butterfly in Opera, Cinema, and Literature’, and a speaker was Hyunseon Lee, who was a guest lecturer of Korean Studies at Tübingen University.

Her study recently published in USA, and a title of the book was “Opera, Exoticism and Visual Culture (Cultural Interactions: Studies in the Relationship between the Arts)”. She is one of the two coeditors.

The lecture was a brief summary of her doctoral dissertation. Due to time limitations the lecture could not present profound parts of her research, but let me try to summarize some important or impressive contents of the lecture here.  As the below depends upon my memos, specific details and names may not be exact.

As “Madame Butterfly”, which was written by Pierre Roti, a sailor and novelist, when he resided in Japan, became a bestseller, it also adapted for Cinema and Opera. 

In a case of “Madame Butterfly” by Puccini, Japanese later made it with westerners.

A singer, Tamaki Miura, was successful in the western stages with pride, which Japanese singers are apposite to take role as a Cio-Cio San in “Madame Butterfly”. This kind of phenomenon can be explained by self-exoticism or self-orientalism. Namely, orientalism or westernization is not unilateral influence, but interplay between two or more different cultures. 

Some people think an opera as the origin of cinema. One of the main reasons is music. Opera had strong influence on  movie rather than a play. 

 Movie as a media and Japan as a culture possessed multifarious elements people wanted such as splendor, extremeness, and intensity. A success of the movie “Madame Butterfly” was attributed to these elements. 

Entering the 20th century, a phenomenon that movie influences on opera is increasing.
Marcia Cirton who wrote Opera on Screen (New Haven/London, 2000. Hyunseon quoted pp.23-24) has studied the relationship between opera and media (cinema, television etc.), and indicated that an opera and a movie are competitive as well as reciprocal. 

My question was as in the following:

Q: As looking at recent trend in Musicology, this kind of studies are growing.

How could you find this novel topic a long time ago? Didn’t your professor advise you, a Korean student studying in German, to study on Korea-related topics?

A: This kind of topic in Musicology aroused antipathy up to recently. They did not like my way of approach on the opera “Madame Butterfly”. I felt this last 2013 when I presented my study, which topic was included in the theme, “Film and Opera”, in Heidelberg. This way is very unfamiliar and strange to existing Musicologists. However, some chair-professor in Texas University and the other professor in Salzburg has already surveyed intensively at the outside of Musicology, and Musicologists who has mainly studied high art music are about to study this seriously.

A motive for studying this: when I was finding post-doctor project, Schnell (maybe her advisor) recommended who has studied in comparison between Japan and western culture at that time. Early in 2000s, there are growing number of researches on Japan-related topics. But I had interested in cinema and opera as parts of media research, and originally intended comparison between eastern and western media  but on my way of research I could find inexhaustible sources. Recently studies related to visual culture become more active. This is very interesting subject of research including an impact which is given by performances.

However, responses to this lecture was not that favorable. There were no one who raised a question without myself after the lecture. As people went out of the room, I could hear only pessimistic comments. Reasons were obvious. To musicologist, deficiency of musical analysis regarded as an academical defect. (A friend of mine who is also studying flushed with anger.) Thus, to some others, this research was weird because this is on unclear boundaries and depending upon inadequate historical sources like ‘discourse’.

An interdisciplinary study, media study, and discourse theory….As I have learned from erudite scholars these are novel and interesting parts in the contemporary academic world, yet still seems to meet with resistances from many people. However, I am interested in these kind of study, and I believe her study area will become a flourishing topic in Musicology. It is not easy to me that I demonstrate why these kind of studies are apposite to the contemporary researchers unless draw on other influential author’s comments. Unfortunately, I cannot remember to quote a word from one of them now, but I hope I could revise and add. Above all, I carefully hope I could study like her way…

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