Abstract

The recent emergence of robot opera, in which robots and robotic entities have served polyvalent and at times ontologically ambiguous roles, has challenged the distinction made by Bauhaus artist László Moholy-Nagy between anthropocentric and mechanized eccentric theater, as is outlined in his 1924 essay “Theater, Circus, Variety.” When incorporated into the context of music theater, is the robot dimension intended to replace human activities and modes of expression; to augment, disembody or dislocate them; or rather to absorb them, such that the robot becomes an ersatz human presence in and of itself? If the latter, does the robot adequately emulate human attributes of musical expression, or does it establish its own artificial expressive mode and set of performance techniques? With Moholy-Nagy's criteria for a so-called Theater of Totality and these leading questions in the background, salient robot opera examples of the past several years will be discussed. Repertoire examples include Tod Machover's pioneering Death and the Powers (2010), the Komische Oper Berlin production My Square Lady (2015), Keiichiro Shibuya's Scary Beauty (2018), and works emerging from the University of Sussex Centre for Research in Opera and Music Theatre Robot Opera Mini Symposium, held in 2017.

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