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The music department is delighted to begin the colloquium series for 2023 with talk by Flora Willson, Senior Lecturer in Music, King’s College London, who will present research from her forthcoming book:

This is a talk about cultural connectedness in the 1890s. By the final decade of the nineteenth century—more than a century before the emergence of what media scholar José van Dijck identifies as our own “culture of connectivity”—urban life in the West was closely entangled with numerous infrastructural networks: of transit, media and communication. From railways and transatlantic shipping routes, via telegraph cables and electric wiring, to the mechanisms of insurance and the now-rapid circulations of the mass press: such networks characterise “modernity” in the West in countless cultural histories.

"My focus, however, is on an artform—opera—that rarely features in such histories. What’s more, such 'offstage' phenomena have rarely been granted more than a cameo in the history of opera, despite the importance of mobility—for performers, composers and the works they create—since the art form’s emergence and first dissemination. The result of these historiographical disconnects is a cultural history inattentive to sound and its meanings; and an understanding of opera that has long overlooked the material, infrastructural foundations of the art form’s epistemologies (what John Durham Peters might label its 'forgotten infrastructures')."

"I’ll focus here on two case studies, rooted in two closely connected cities: Paris and New York. I‘ll take the Théâtrophone—one of the world’s first electrical broadcasting networks, established in Paris in 1889—and its imbrication of operatic performance within the city’s urban fabric as a starting point from which to examine a more pervasive fantasy of connectedness in operatic culture at the end of the nineteenth century. Following lines running between the cities, I’ll then turn to New York to trace the operatic entanglements with new technologies latent in the Metropolitan Opera’s elite social network and to scrutinise the changing position of the Met on Manhattan’s increasingly layered urban grid. In both cases, I want to address the ways in which any operatic connectivity must also entail friction, that productive, problematic co-mingling of possibility and restriction that anthropologist Anna Tsing calls “the grip of the encounter”. I’ll argue that it is precisely in such frictions that opera’s meaningful purchase on urban life might be felt most strongly."

Read Dr Flora Wilsons's Profile on the guardian here.

Twitter: @drflorawillson 

Online participation via Teams is open to King's members and affiliates. Please be in touch with Gavin Williams ( for the Teams link or with any other queries.

At this event

Flora Willson Headshot

Senior Lecturer in Music

Gavin Williams

Lecturer in Music

Event details

Saint Davids Room (SDR), Strand Campus
Strand Campus
Strand, London, WC2R 2LS

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