1 June 2001

Death, dying and opera will be discussed at a free public seminar at The University of Queensland's St Lucia campus on Thursday, June 7.

UQ's Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies is organising the seminar, entitled Opera Moriendi: Staging Death and Dying and featuring Professors Linda and Michael Hutcheon of the University of Toronto. The seminar will be held in the Social Sciences and Humanities Library conference room from 2pm to 3.30pm.

Centre director and seminar chair Professor Graeme Turner said the multi-media lecture would introduce and provide an overview of the Hutcheons' new research project. They are researching the beliefs and attitudes that Western cultures hold about death and dying - as they are played out in opera, an art form inordinately obsessed with these themes.

In a written statement about the seminar, the Hutcheons said: "Across a wide range of fields there has been an upsurge of interest recently in the historical, social and cultural meanings given to death, and this has led to the creation of the new interdisciplinary field of ?Death Studies'.

"This project hopes to bring together two discourses on questions of mortality that have remained stubbornly separate in academic terms: the biological and social sciences (which have traditionally dealt with ?real world' pragmatics) and the humanities (which have usually worked on historical and cultural manifestations).

"Thanks to the intellectual and affective power of the European Romantic obsession with death, 19th-century German opera figures prominently in this study, but so too do both modern Czech and French operas, as well as 17th-century Italian works.

"What all the operas we examine share is what may seem a strangely positive view of death - as the site of redemption, reunion, transcendence, or the restoration of peace, honour or justice. The specific focus of the project is less on the operas themselves, however, than on how a 21st century audience might respond to their various but always positive representations of death.

"Death may well be a human universal, but it is also given different cultural meanings in different times and places. Its universality gives it a certain inevitable power when used in art, but its different cultural meanings complicate its reception and interpretation. In the course of outlining the project and its theoretical frame of reference, the lecture will discuss and offer illustrations from operas such as: Francis Poulenc's Les Dialogues des Carmelites, Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen and Tristan und Isolde, Leos Janacek's The Makropoulos Affair, among others."

Professor Linda Hutcheon is University Professor in the Department of English and the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. Michael Hutcheon is Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto where he is a Medical Director of the University Health Network. Together, their collaborative work on the cultural construction of sexuality, gender and disease in opera has been published in Opera, Desire, Disease, Death (University of Nebraska Press, 1996) and Bodily Charm: Living Opera (University of Nebraska Press, 2000). Both are keynote speakers at the Interdisciplinarity Conference, No Sense of Discipline being held at The University of Queensland, St. Lucia, June 11- 12, 2001.

Enquiries to Ms. Andrea Mitchell, Centre for Critical and Cultural Studies telephone: 3365 7182, Email: a.mitchell@mailbox.uq.edu.au Website: http://arts.uq.edu.au/cccs/events/seminars.html#Hutcheon