Opera, Myth, Society: How do they correlate?


Vlado Kotnik


Institutum Studiorum Humanitatis, Ljubljana Graduate School of the Humanities



Abstract. The paper examines some mythical aspects of social representations of opera, and is supported by examples from the Slovenian operatic environment. The argumentation rests on three key premises: firstly, considering the mass of words and images which sur­round the opera phenomenon in public spheres, it is strange that there is a relatively small number of interpretations of the opera which would surpass the canonised notions, such as opera as a work of art, as heavenly music, as “high culture”, as a phantasmagoric world, and, particularly, as a “national thing”, etc. The world of production of modern mythologies within the context of the contemporary westernised societies likes to connect the operatic arena with some “mythical” ritualisation of “national societies”, which all have placed the opera on an incontestable pedestal of “repre­sentative art”, “elite culture” or “national tradi­tion”. Secondly, it is argued that the usage of myth in opera historically shows a specific continuity of operatic appropriation of mytho­logical material which served and still serves as an example how to reinvent traditions for the construction of new modern myths. Thirdly, if we take opera as a social practice then we could acknowledge also that opera as a social pheno­menon creates an interesting segment of “mythologisation” of society, which is most evident in images of myths, produced by opera repertoires, and in images of “typical” institu­tionalised theatrical life, extensively spread in public and surrounded by indisputable and obstinate stereotypes about opera in society. The article is an attempt to tackle the anthropol­ogy of reading of the myth structures and the social aspects of opera imaginaire.