Jonas Forssells disputation

I sitt forskningsprojekt "The Transfigurations of the Text" undersöker Jonas Forssell hur text används inom nutida operakomposition.

Jonas Forssells avhandling handlar om operans text. Utifrån sin bakgrund som operatonsättare och med många års erfarenhet av arbete också med teater tar han ett helhetsgrepp på utformandet och tonsättandet av den text som ska bäras av tonerna. Med avstamp i Stanislavskijs påstående att "Ordet är vad och musiken är hur!" ingår förutom själva tonsättandet och librettoförfattandet också andra ämnen som dramaturgi, operaöversättning och viss mån även sångteknik i avhandlingsarbetet.

Handledare: Karin Helander, Stockholms konstnärliga högskola

Opponent: Anders Wiklund, Högskolan för scen och musik, Göteborg

Ordförande för disputationen: Anna Lindal, Operahögskolan


This thesis focuses on the opera text enlightened from four different perspectives: the translator, the librettist, the composer and finally the singer, based on the author’s thirty years of professional practice, in the spirit of Donald A. Schön’s study from 1983: The Reflective Practitioner; How professionals think in action. The method is basically hermeneutic and the esthetics inspired by Umberto Eco’s Opera Aperta (”The Open Work”) from 1962.

Questions from within the perspective of the translator are: In what ways does opera translation differ from other forms of translation, and how does an opera translator work? What is the history of “opera in the vernacular” compared to “opera in original language” and are singable translations needed whatsoever in the modern era of subtitling?

The perspective of the librettist examines the opera form’s SWOT-analysis, the differences from other “story-telling” art forms, the task of making an adaption compared to choosing to create an original plot, the matter of taste and building the form from dramaturgical principles, the shaping of aria texts, the importance of tight collaboration and cutting, cutting, cutting (“a libretto cannot be short enough” Edgar Istel, 1922).

The composer’s perspective contains practical and theoretical words of advice and examples from practice, together with a so ”think aloud”-study from within a composer’s thought pro-cess while working.

The final chapter, from the singer’s perspective, focuses on whether modern vocal ideals and singing “in original language”, with subtitles, together with expanding performance halls, have made opera text harder to perceive, and rendered earlier established texting techniques forgotten or obsolete.

The answers to all these questions are complex. This thesis concludes that the opera form is still expanding, but not necessarily in the direction of creating a new, contemporary canon. “There are about 600 opera houses in the world, all are ‘National Galleries’, none is the Tate Modern” (Per-Erik Öhrn, 2012), but there are also opportunities. Almost all successful new opera productions in recent years have their librettos written in English, a language traditionally regarded as “weak” in the field of opera. Opera audiences worldwide are nowadays accustomed to hearing and understanding sung English words and comprehending a dramatic context when expressed in English, thanks to 100 years of Anglo-American dominance in popular music and about 50 years of dominance in television and films.