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Karantonis, Pamela and Robinson, Dylan (2011) Introduction. In: Karantonis, Pamela and Robinson, Dylan, (eds.) Opera Indigene: Re/presenting First Nations and Indigenous Cultures. Ashgate Interdisciplinary Series in Opera . Ashgate Publishing, Farnham, UK / Burlington, USA, pp. 1-12. ISBN 978-0-7546-6989-0 (print), 978-1-4094-2406-2 (e-book)

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At the 2005 Talking Stick Festival, an annual event that showcases Indigenous Performance in Vancouver, Canada, the Tsimshian/Cree performance artist Skeena Reece, offered a perspective on the developing performance traditions of First Nations song:

I figure in like a hundred years our songs are just gonna sound real different … .
They’re probably gonna sound something like this:

Reece begins to sing what sounds like a traditional song with vocables, but performs it with full operatic bravura and excessive vibrato. She concludes the aria with a rising arpeggio, ending on a high note that causes her eyes to roll up toward the back of her head. It is a parody of operatic singing at its best. Thunderous cheers and laughter erupt from audience.

What? Come on, that’s not a good thing, man. That’s not good—how’re we supposed to dance to that?

Any written transcription of Reece’s routine, be it textual or musical, cannot convey the full extent of absurdity in her adaptation of traditional singing, nor the ebullient response of the largely First Nations audience in attendance. The worlds of Indigenous cultural traditions and opera would seem to be diametrically opposed in a large majority of their aspects including performance style, participation, venue, and cultural function. In Reece’s parody we see the worlds of opera and First Nations song come together as questionable partners. Yet the conjunction of these worlds has historically been much more common in an international context than one would expect, and has often resulted in productive exchange and the reciprocal growth of both traditions. In striking contrast to what Reece and her audience hear as the incongruous pairing of cultural traditions and operatic practice, there is both a long history of operas that represent First Peoples and a lesser-known history of opera by First Peoples used to express and re-assess cultural traditions. The chapters contained within this volume explore the range of incongruities, synchronicities, and alliances between indigenous cultural practices and operatic traditions. While the representation of non-Western cultures and otherness in opera has long been a focus for critical inquiry, the diverse relationships between opera and First Nations and Indigenous cultures have received far less attention. Opera Indigene takes these relationships as a focus, a dressing the changing historical depictions of Indigenous cultures in opera and the more contemporary uses and adaptations of the form by Indigenous and First Nations artists. The “re/presenting” of our title thus signals an important distinction between how non-Indigenous artists have represented the Indigene in opera3 and how Indigenous artists have more recently utilized opera as an interface to present and extend cultural practices.

Item Type: Book Section
Additional Information: [1] Introduction. [2] Pamela Karantonis is co-editor and co-author of Chapters 4 and 18.
Uncontrolled Keywords: opera, first nations, theatre, indigenous cultures
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN2000 Dramatic representation. The Theater
Pre-2014 Departments: School of Humanities & Social Sciences
School of Humanities & Social Sciences > Department of Communications & Creative Arts
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Last Modified: 14 Oct 2016 09:21

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