Course Description

Literature of the Fantastic and Operatic Adaptation 

Spring Quarter 2018
The Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations
Course number and crosslistings TBD

Weekly seminar format, open to graduate students and advanced undergraduates
Enrollment capped at 12 students
Instructor’s consent required

Instructors: Judith T. Zeitlin and Yao Chen (EALC)
Teaching assistant: Lester Hu

This co-taught interdisciplinary course, offered through the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, explores literature of the fantastic (here including ghost stories, fairy tales, and myths) and the adaptation of such materials into opera, primary “Western-style” opera but also including some examples from Chinese opera. We will read some theoretical essays on adaptation, trans- or re-mediality, and the uncanny, but our focus will be on concrete examples and the historical arc of their transformation (which often entailed at least one intermediary step from story to play on the way to opera). This history, as in the famous case of Turandot, often involves an interesting chain of East-West crossings, misappropriations, and reappropriations. Chinoiserie has been a potent force in the history of European opera, and in a new form, is currently in vogue again (at least judging from the recent proliferation of Chinese-themed Western style or fusion operas being created and staged). We will select several specific operas or excerpts from opera as cases, reading their libretti, studying their music, and watching select productions on recorded media.


For their final project, students will have several options:

1) for musicians: composition of a short piece of text set to music, either working with the composer’s own original text or a preexisting text or collaborating with another student in the class to write the libretto and dramaturgical outline;

2) for creative writers: option of independently creating a libretto and dramaturgical outline;

3) for students in TAPS: option of designing a (hypothetical) stage production, either of an existing opera, or in collaboration with composers and/or librettist; or

4) for students in any discipline: an academic paper on some aspect related to the subjects of the class.