What do death metal and opera have in common?

Conference on performance art examines operatic ‘elitism’ and female metal’s ‘death growl’

Ireland's first major conference on performance art - covering topics as diverse as opera and death metal - is being held at Maynooth University tomorrow.

The event will cover how opera can shed its elitist image, the difficulties of critiquing live performances, and how female vocalists are penetrating the male domain of death metal.

Maynooth University music lecturer Dr Alison Hood said performance studies is a new academic discipline which is complex to describe.

“It is still being defined and developed. The act of performance is such a complex concept and one that is extremely difficult to put boundaries on.”


Maynooth professor of music Christopher Morris will discuss how opera has sought to shed its elitist image by getting out of the opera house and using new technologies to broadcast to a much wider audience.

There has also been attempts to bring opera to non-traditional settings, such as with Beethoven’s prison opera Fidelio being performed in Kilmainham Gaol.

Also, a Swiss television broadcast set Puccini's well-known opera La Bohéme in a housing project on the outskirts of Bern.

The producers in that case undermined the integrity of their production, Prof Morris will suggest, with their behind-the-scenes documentary of the production by suggesting the opera project had allowed the neighbourhood to transcend its “ghetto” reputation by becoming a “stage for high culture”.

“Having gone to great lengths to reach out to a new setting and new audience, the production undermines the good work, first, by reinforcing the negative view of the neighbourhood as a ghetto and then patronisingly suggesting that opera will ‘elevate’ it,” he said.

Prof Maria Pramaggiore, Maynooth University's head of media studies, will speak on how specific voices, such as that of Morgan Freeman, can enhance our perceptions of a documentary.

University of Cambridge professor John Rink's lecture will discuss The Futility of Performance Analysis, given that Frank Zappa once compared writing about music to "dancing about architecture".

Black Speech: Female Masculinity and Liminality in Death Metal by music lecturer Estelle Murphy charts the influx of female performers into death metal music.

These women are primarily vocalists and have mastered the once exclusively male technique of extreme guttural vocals, known as the “death growl” or “black speech”.

The Performance, Practice and Interactivity event takes place from 9am to 5.30pm in the Bewerunge Room, Logic House on the Maynooth University South Campus.

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy

Ronan McGreevy is a news reporter with The Irish Times