Opera as Soundtrack: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Opera as Soundtrack

1st Edition

By Jeongwon Joe


224 pages

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Filmmakers' fascination with opera dates back to the silent era but it was not until the late 1980s that critical enquiries into the intersection of opera and cinema began to emerge. Jeongwon Joe focusses primarily on the role of opera as soundtrack by exploring the distinct effects opera produces in film, effects which differ from other types of soundtrack music, such as jazz or symphony. These effects are examined from three perspectives: peculiar qualities of the operatic voice; various properties commonly associated with opera, such as excess, otherness or death; and multifaceted tensions between opera and cinema - for instance, opera as live, embodied, high art and cinema as technologically mediated, popular entertainment.

Joe argues that when opera excerpts are employed on soundtracks they tend to appear at critical moments of the film, usually associated with the protagonists, and the author explores why it is opera, not symphony or jazz, that accompanies poignant scenes like these. Joe's film analysis focuses on the time period of the post-1970s, which is distinguished by an increase of opera excerpts on soundtracks to blockbuster titles, the commercial recognition of which promoted the production of numerous opera soundtrack CDs in the following years. Joe incorporates an empirical methodology by examining primary sources such as production files, cue-sheets and unpublished interviews with film directors and composers to enhance the traditional hermeneutic approach. The films analysed in her book include Woody Allen’s Match Point, David Cronenberg’s M. Butterfly, and Wong Kar-wai’s 2046.


‘This book is a fascinating investigation into the productive frictions between opera and cinema: death, murder, divas, cinema’s effect on opera performances, and opera in the context of the compilation score. Joe’s concept of the "geno-song" in particular is key in soundtrack studies.’

Phil Powrie, University of Surrey, UK

'Combining an engagement with a wide range of theoretical approaches with well-chosen case studies, Jeongwon Joe’s Opera as Soundtrack will appeal to students of both opera and film music. She explores a variety of operatic tropes in American, European, and Asian film, which cluster particularly around love and death (of course!), and often get entangled in the "problem" of women’s voices, and of women who sing. Joe posits that film’s persistent obsession with and anxiety about opera might just be matched by opera’s envy of this upstart art.’

Robynn Stilwell, Georgetown University, USA



‘Opera as soundtrack offre al lettore numerosi spunti di riflessione e di approfondimento grazie anche alla aggiornatissima bibliografia che spazia, ovviamente, dalla storia del cinema a quella dell’opera. Si tratta comunque di un libro di livello universitario o addirittura post-universitario … ma che potrà dare soddisfazione sia ai melomani sia agli amanti della settima arte.’ [‘Opera as Soundtrack offers the reader much food for thought and more in-depth study thanks also to its extremely up-to-date bibliography which ranges … from the history of cinema to that of opera. This is a book for university level or even post-graduate study … that will also satisfy both opera fans and lovers of The Seventh Art.’] Operaclick

Table of Contents

Contents: Prologue: tracing opera as soundtrack; Opera as geno-song; Opera in cinematic death; Opera in Woody Allen’s Match Point; Is cinema’s anxiety opera’s envy?; Film divas: the problem and the power of singing women; Behind the discourse on the opera-cinema encounter: film, music criticism and the ‘great divide’ between modernism and postmodernism; Epilogue: an ethnographic postscript; Select bibliography; Index.

About the Author

Jeongwon Joe is Associate Professor of Musicology at the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. She is co-editor of Wagner and Cinema (2010) and Between Opera and Cinema (2002). She has published articles on Milos Forman's Amadeus, Philip Glass's La Belle et la bête, David Lynch's Blue Velvet, Gerard Corbiau's Farinelli, and other work related to opera and film music. Her current projects include a monograph, whose working title is Western Opera's Diaspora in Korea: During the Japanese Occupation (1910-1945). She has also served as a music consultant to Chan-wook Park, the director of Cannes award-winning films Oldboy (2004) and Thirst (2009).

About the Series

Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera

Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera
The Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera series provides a centralized and prominent forum for the presentation of cutting-edge scholarship that draws on numerous disciplinary approaches to a wide range of subjects associated with the creation, performance, and reception of opera (and related genres) in various historical and social contexts. There is great need for a broader approach to scholarship about opera. In recent years, the course of study has developed significantly, going beyond traditional musicological approaches to reflect new perspectives from literary criticism and comparative literature, cultural history, philosophy, art history, theatre history, gender studies, film studies, political science, philology, psycho-analysis, and medicine. The new brands of scholarship have allowed a more comprehensive interrogation of the complex nexus of means of artistic expression operative in opera, one that has meaningfully challenged prevalent historicist and formalist musical approaches. The Ashgate Interdisciplinary Studies in Opera series continues to move this important trend forward by including essay collections and monographs that reflect the ever-increasing interest in opera in non-musical contexts. Books in the series are linked by their emphasis on the study of a single genre - opera - yet are distinguished by their individualized and novel approaches by scholars from various disciplines/fields of inquiry. The remit of the series welcomes studies of seventeenth century to contemporary opera from all geographical locations, including non-Western topics.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
MUSIC / Genres & Styles / Opera