In this innovative book, Gundula Kreuzer argues for the foundational role of technologies in the conception, production, and study of nineteenth-century opera. She shows how composers increasingly incorporated novel audiovisual effects in their works and how the uses and meanings of the required apparatuses changed through the twentieth century, sometimes still resonating in stagings, performance art, and popular culture today. Focusing on devices (which she dubs “Wagnerian technologies”) intended to amalgamate opera’s various media while veiling their mechanics, Kreuzer offers a practical counternarrative to Wagner’s idealist theories of total illusionism. At the same time, Curtain, Gong, Steam’s multifaceted exploration of the three titular technologies repositions Wagner as catalyst more than inventor in the history of operatic production. With its broad chronological and geographical scope, this book deepens our understanding of the material and mechanical conditions of historical operatic practice as well as of individual works, both well known and obscure.
Gundula Kreuzer is Associate Professor of Music at Yale University. She is the author of the award-winning Verdi and the Germans: From Unification to the Third Reich and editor of Verdi’s instrumental chamber music for The Works of Giuseppe Verdi.
“Curtain, Gong, Steam is exemplary in the way it allies meticulous historical evidence with operatic interpretation, and what results is one of the most exciting books on nineteenth-century opera to appear in decades, one that will become a touchstone for further work in this field. Kreuzer takes the issue of material reality in operatic stagings to another level. She does not just transcend familiar academic debates surrounding studies in media and technology, but returns us, with a sense of relish and verve, to all the ways in which sensory impacts—what was seen, heard, scented on the air, and felt viscerally when nineteenth-century theatergoers encountered new staging technologies—were central to the experience of operatic performance.”—Carolyn Abbate, Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor, Harvard University
“At last Gundula Kreuzer has given operatic technologies a voice of their own. Wagner’s secret machines and hidden wires are themselves the actors, telling of their Baroque origins and their reincarnation as part of twenty-first-century immersive media, particularly in new productions of the Ring. A fabulously well-researched contribution to Wagner scholarship and a landmark in theater and opera studies.”—John Deathridge, Emeritus King Edward Professor of Music, King’s College London
“Kreuzer’s book combines the sustained sweep of a well-researched study with the conceptual boldness of an essay; it is both learned and brilliantly argued. By drawing on diverse theoretical sources with roots in the work of Benjamin and Heidegger as well as on the current historically informed discourse about technology, the detailed case studies in Curtain, Gong, Steam set an exemplary standard for the critical analysis of opera staging.”—Stephen Hinton, Avalon Foundation Professor in the Humanities, Stanford University
“Curtain, Gong, Steam probes the fraught but immensely fruitful relationship between opera composers and staging technologies in the nineteenth century. Gundula Kreuzer’s innovative and exciting approach yields many fresh insights into canonic works while also throwing revealing light on rather obscure corners of operatic history. This original book will be read with profit and pleasure not only by musicologists, but also by historians of theater, technology, and science, as well as anybody interested in the connections between art, culture, and society.”—Emanuele Senici, Professor of Music, University of Rome "La Sapienca"