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Stephen Newcombe: "Come and be a Space Explorer!", and Yaou Zhang: "Are the ghosts real? Attitudes towards the supernatural in Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw"

Wednesday 10 November 2021, 4.00PM to 5:30pm

Stephen Newcombe: Come and be a Space Explorer!

The album, in particular the concept album, can be thought of as an immersive medium. A work which is cohesive not just in theme, music, lyrics and meaning, but also through artwork and text. The act of experiencing a concept album requires the attentiveness of the listener. In trying to parse the meanings presented in the music and album cover, the experiencer becomes fully engaged and immersed within the work.

In the streaming era, however, it appears the concept album is dead. On Spotify, an album’s songs are torn away from their siblings and sent to work in playlists geared towards road-trips, revision, or relaxation. Not only do these songs lose their context, but they become background noise for a range of activities, none of which have anything to do with active listening.

The pairing of the concept album with the medium of virtual reality demands the listener re-engage with the music. Not only is VR itself immersive, it also shuts the experiencer off from distracting stimuli and promotes active listening. In accommodating a cohesive, meaningful work where both the aural and the visual are unified, VR gives my concept album Space Explorer the space in which to be immersive.

Did I mention it’s also interactive?

Yaou Zhang: Are the ghosts real? Attitudes towards the supernatural in Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw

As one of Benjamin Britten’s most remarkable operas, the chamber opera The Turn of the Screw (1954) has been understood as a work that depicts either the psychological processes of the characters or a ghost story. The story of the libretto was taken from Henry James’s novella with the same name. The novella The Turn of the Screw, created in 1898 during the Victorian era, is one of the best-known ghost stories in literature, and it has been adapted numerous times, including for Britten’s Screw. So why have people been so obsessed with this ghost story? One of the primary questions concerning people in the story is “how real the ghosts are,” which points
to considerable ambiguity in readers’ minds.

For decades after the premiere of the opera in 1954, critics and audiences couldn’t agree on whether or not the governess imagined the ghosts in the story. However, in recent years, directors of new productions have stopped grappling with whether "ghosts really exist" or "the psychological problems of the governess"; they give themselves an opportunity to delve deeper into Britten’s musical structure and give the opera more space to be interpreted.

This talk will present a new angle of Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. By considering a third position, I will show how attention has moved from the question of “do the ghosts really exist” to “traumatized children.” By examining different opera productions chronologically, my research will not only offer a sense of how the stage performance can contemporarily shape and alter audience members’ understanding of the opera, but also clarifies a landscape of changed values in aesthetics, social politics, and receptions, etc.


Join the seminar in-person, or online via Zoom (Meeting ID: 998 9220 5308; Passcode: 390939).

Location: Music Department, Room D003, Sally Baldwin Buildings, Wentworth Way