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date: 21 October 2019

Summary and Keywords

Melodrama is a mixed or transmedial artform that, having migrated from stage to film, television and digital screens, typically combines plastic arts (tableau, mise en scène, filmic close-up, sculptural poses) with performative arts (stage and screen acting, declamation, singing, orchestral or other music). It emerged first in the 18th century when Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote and composed his “scène lyrique” Pygmalion, a formally innovative and experimental adaptation of the story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In the context of the speculative and neoAristotelian ideas that Rousseau contributed to public debate about the significance of imitation or mimesis in the development of language, Rousseau’s foundational melodrama represented the coming-to-life of Pygmalion’s beloved statue, Galatea, as a mimetic scene in which metamorphosis takes place through the statue’s responsiveness to the artist and vice versa. More than simply a theme, imitation is intrinsic to the musical-dramatic and, thus, transmedial structure of the ur-melodrama, through which the alternation of spoken lyric with musical phrasing was intended to draw attention to the mimetic role of vocal accent within the arrangement. This aesthetic structure opened the possibility of representing a diversity of voices on the metropolitan stage and beyond. Since its Enlightenment-era beginnings, the mixed form of melodrama has persisted even as it has been transformed in its itinerary from the 18th century to the early 21st century, transmedially adapting to new modalities and formats as it has moved from stage to print formats and then to film, television, and digital platforms. The transmedial form and reach of melodrama is discernible in latter-day performance and film, in which the mixed form—particularly vocal accent, melody, and gesture—continue to disrupt normative identities and hegemonic systems.

Keywords: aesthetics, transmediality, plasticity, music, performance

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