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Pamela Karantonis
Lecturer at the School for English and Drama, University of the West of England, Bristol, UK

The Voice as Collaboration and Intervention

This paper looks at the performativity of the singer, Cathy Berberian, in much the same way that the individual performativity and creativity of the actor/performer is regarded in contemporary performance-making. Rather than being responsible for the simple repetition of musical or theatrical languages, there is something of an intervention in Cathy Berberian’s interpretation of both the music and drama demanded of her.

What this sees in the musical terrain is a radicalisation of the role of the classically trained singer, whose limitations were, in centuries previous, confined to the musical conventions of their time. However, in an environment of aesthetic experimentation, particularly in her collaboration with Luciano Berio, Cathy Berberian tested the limits of genre stability in musico-dramatic forms. Evidence of this is to be heard in the compilation Magnificathy: The Many Voices of Cathy Berberian (CD: Wergo, 1993), which can be argued as an ur-text for post-modern divadom, well before the operatic “cross-over” of opera singers into the popular cultural influence of jazz, rhythm’n’blues, rock ballads and electronic music.

Cathy Berberian’s unique performativity also responds to the unique fusion of musicality and theatricality in the aesthetic experiments which parallel the history of opera: from Monteverdi to the theatricality of Weill’s musical language and the conceptual experiments of John Cage. Ultimately, it is her command of the multiple roles of composer, singer, actress and collaborator that marks Cathy Berberian’s significant intervention of genres at the crossroads of music and theatre.

Pamela Karantonis holds a PhD in Theatre, Film and Dance from the University of New South Wales, Sydney. She trained in operatic voice and stagecraft with tenor Reginald Byers of The Australian Opera. She has worked in the performing arts industry in Australia, firstly with The Australian Opera’s youth programme OperAction and then with the State Opera of South Australia, singing works by Williamson, Gay, Mozart, Wagner and Puccini. She has also worked as a private voice teacher for actors and singers. In theatre, Pamela has studied with the Australian Theatre for Young People and undertaken a course on Directing Young Actors at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, in Sydney. Her theoretical background in theatre includes the areas of ‘Censorship and Responsibility’, Antonin Artaud’s ‘Theatre of Cruelty’, ‘Performance Studies and Ritual’, Jean Rouch’s Cinema Vérité and acting styles in both mainstream and independent cinema.

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