Exoticism in 19th and 20th Term Paper

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S. -- Japan political relationship." (Shepard, "Cinematic realism, reflexivity and the American 'Madame Butterfly' narratives," Page 60)

The exotic in western culture and in 19th and 20th century opera representations often refers to objects and people that are Asian and African:

"The word "exoticism" relates, etymologically, to places or settings "away from" some vantage point considered normative, most often that of the observer him- or herself. Like so many "-isms" (idealism, Romanticism), exoticism can be broadly encompassing and relatively abstract: an ideology, a diverse collection of attitudes and prejudices, an intellectual tendency. Or it can be broad yet concrete: a cultural trend with rich and varied manifestations. In literature and the visual arts, for example, exoticism is generally sought and found in a work's subject matter and in the evident attitudes and aesthetic aims of the work's creator -- but not necessarily in his or her style." (Locke, "A Broader View of Musical Exoticism, Page 479)

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Carmen is somewhat foreign and somewhat familiar as Spanish culture is European, but is not automatically considered "white," though it is considered "colonial." (White, "19th Century and 20th Century French Exoticism") The use of the exotic additionally reflects the military activities and conquests of the time. European countries colonized parts of Asia and Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries. The operas composed at the time reflected cultures that Europeans were exposed to and that they subordinated:

Term Paper on Exoticism in 19th & 20th Assignment

"The earliest widespread adoption of Egyptian forms and motifs in architecture and the decorative arts begins following Napoleon's conquest of Egypt in 1798 -- 1799. Napoleon's scientists, cartographers, engineers, and artists study and record tombs, temples, and other buildings, and the newly established Insitut d'Egypte examines all aspects of Egyptian civilization. These sources provide a wealth of information about Egypt, ancient and modern, and acquaint people with the land, about which little is known in the West…A new wave of Egyptian Revival begins in the 1870s, inspired by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869, Giuseppe Verdi's opera Aida of 1871 with its colorful Egyptian-style sets, and the installation of Egyptian obelisks in London in 1878 and New York's Central Park in 1879. " (Harwood, May, & Sherman, "Exoticism," Page 213)

After or as part of their cultural subordination, these cultures were rendered exotic in art forms such as opera, prepared for mass, public consumption. (White, "19th Century and 20th Century French Exoticism")

The exotic as expressed in 19th and 20th century operas can additionally communicate aspects of the foreign culture that the colonial culture cannot or does not. Meaning the exotic can take the form of the characters, the set, and/or the music itself:

"…I wish to avoid any suggestion that Bizet has somehow flattened out the distinctive folk and regional -- non-French, nonoperatic -- stylistic features that he found in Spanish musical sources. As commentators have long agreed -- from Julien Tiersot and Edgar Istel to Susan McClary, Lesley Wright, James Parakilas, Steven Huebner, and Herve Lacombe -- certain numbers in this opera tell as foreign -- indeed, as exotic. And thus they also tell us something about the characters and situations we are seeing and how we, the audience, are to respond to what we are seeing and hearing acted out onstage in movement, gesture, word, and song." (Locke, "Spanish Local Color in Bizet's Carmen," Page 3)

Locke contends that Bizet communicates and expresses what is exotic in more than one manner. His style reflects and incorporates Spanish rhythms and the Spanish instrumental palette. The songs themselves are examples of the exotic, as well as the overall premise and title character themselves. Locke further states that the exotic for Bizet is expressed in the actor's blocking upon the stage. The movements, the gestures, the non-verbal communication of the characters serve to express what is exotic from the French perspective. The exotic operates on multiple levels that are both superficial and implicit in each respective opera.

Some members of the scholarly and artistic communities think that not enough attention has been paid to the exotic. Some of those same people also feel that the attention paid to the exotic in opera and in music is from a narrow-minded perspective. Examining the exotic from a larger contextual framework can offer new insights into the operas and into the cultures from which they come. Locke describes this state of thinking in the community and indirectly issues a challenge:

"The blinkered scholarly response to this thoroughly exoticist opera is typical more generally. Musical exoticism has long been defined in a narrow way: as the incorporation of foreign (or at least strange-sounding) style elements. The present article urges, instead, that musical exoticism be defined broadly, as the process by which exotic places and peoples are represented in musical works. It begins by looking at definitions of musical exoticism from several important scholars with different interests and backgrounds (Thomas Betzwieser, Jonathan Bellman, Jean-Pierre Bartoli), and then contrasting those with a definition of my own that is more comprehensive and more adequate to the wide range of exotic portrayals per musica." (Locke, "A Broader View of Musical Exoticism," Page 478)

While most scholars locate the exotic in the musical sounds and arrangements of music. Locke persists that exoticism permeates the entire work and should be viewed as such. He claims that there needs to be a broadening in the scope of thinking when we consider the exotic in opera and in music in general. How else does exotic manifest? How can we recognize it? Locke deems it important for scholars to be more flexible in their definitions and notations of exoticism in music:

"Within the musical realm, by contrast, exoticism has been treated less as a broad mindset or artistic approach and more as a lexicon of specific stylistic devices that the composer -- and presumably many of his or her listeners -- associated, rightly or wrongly, with the distant country or people in question. We sometimes even use the word in the plural, saying that a piece makes much or little use of various "exoticisms" typical of the era.6 "Exoticisms," in this sense, are small-scale and countable.7 Or the word can sometimes refer to an exotic style-dialect (comprising a number of those small-scale features). (Locke, "A Broader View of Musical Exoticism," Page 480)

For Locke, exoticism is evident in much more than just the broad strokes of opera and of music; for Locke, the exoticism in the details and very fabric of the music.

Exoticism is prevalent in the operas of the 19th and 20th centuries. Exoticism functions as a method of expression for several desires of the western male. The western male has a need to experience the exotic via his leisure activities, such as the consumption of art, music, and opera. After confronting a foreign culture in the military context, the western males desires to consume the exotic in a more safe and less threatening manner, such as in the form of an exotic opera. There is a process by which the exotic is westernized and therefore more savory for western consumption. The true exoticism of the culture is modified. The expression of exoticism is not accurate, authentic, or fully realistic in some respects. Cultural elements are adapted and utilized in western operas as means to express and demonstrate the exotic. The exotic is most directly expressed in the form of the sexualized exotic women, as in the cases of Carmen, Aida, and Madame Butterfly. Homogeny is safe, yet also boring. The exotic is unstable, yet also exciting. Why do we desire the exotic? Is it a primal urge? The display of the exotic reflects a need for the new and the need for stimulation. Depending on the cultural and political contexts within which the operas are composed, the exotic can further express political, social, and economic frameworks of a colonial society.


Crebas, Aya & Dick Pels. "The Character of Carmen and the Social Construction of a New Feminine Myth." Center for European Studies, Working Paper Series #5, December 12, 1987.

Harwood, Buie, Bridget May, Phd, & Curt Sherman. "Exoticism: 1830s -- 1920s." Architecture and Interior Design from the 19th Century: An Integrated History, Volume 2,-Page 212 -- 235. Prentice Hall, 2009.

Locke, Ralph P. "A Broader View of Musical Exoticism." The Journal of Musicology, Volume 24, No. 4, Pages 477 -- 521. University of California Press, 2007.

Locke, Ralph P. "Beyond the exotic: How 'Eastern' is Aida?" Cambridge Opera Journal, Volume 17, No. 2, Pages 105 -- 139. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2005.

Locke, Ralph P. "Spanish Local Color in Bizet's Carmen: Unexplored Borrowing and Transformations." Musical Exoticism: Images and Reflections, Chapter 14, Pages 316 -- 360. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009.

Robinson, Paul. "Is 'Aida' an Orientalist Opera?" Cambridge Opera Journal, Volume 5, No. 2, Pages 133 -- 140. Cambridge, July,… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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