Art, Spatiality, and Politics
Fidelio and the German Ideologies
Prof. Dr. Glenn Stanley
Lecture in English
In 1967, Michel Foucault described his current epoch as one being concerned with space, that is, a space which is geographic or liminal, political or ideological, occupied or free. With an increasing preoccupation with space in late capitalism, Foucault’s concern grows into disquietude, using artistic spaces, for example, to engage with the politics of land use, race, and sustainability, or using concepts of decoloniality and critical whiteness to critique some of our most hallowed artistic spaces.
This lecture series will engage with space, cultural and performative practice, and political engagement in the arts, pivoting around the following set of evolving questions: What are spaces of exclusion and inclusion in artistic practice? In what ways can art contribute to spatial justice? How are spaces racialized and segregated artistically? And how do artistic spaces capture, reflect, or comment upon socio-political ideologies?
Fidelio and the German Ideologies: Political Interpretations through Performance
Beethoven’s opera Fidelio makes a strong but very ambivalent political statement. It strikes republican tones but also affirms benevolent aristocratic authority. Its heroes are from the elite; the prisoners do not free themselves, nor are they freed by a revolutionary populace. Fidelio is politically malleable: it could be—and was—pushed and pulled in diverse ideological directions in the rapidly changing series of German states and social systems across its turbulent 20th century.
I will discuss representative productions across the ideological spectrum, from the Weimar Republic into the new Millennium. With the help of slides and videos, I will show how interpretative strategies based on staging and lighting, sets and costumes, the elimination of musical numbers and spoken dialog, and new text and stage action were employed in order to cast the opera in a particular ideological light. In the Federal Republic of Germany in the late 20th century, productions often critiqued and negated the utopian character of the work, in particular the conclusion. Fidelio interpretations do not only reflect the political circumstances of their time and place; they express and help shape them as active cultural agents. Fidelio is, as the music critic Klaus Spahn for Die Zeit remarked, “the always relevant work, the eternal object of German self-questioning.”
The lecture series will be video-streamed live on the website and on the YouTube channel of the Barenboim-Said Akademie.