As the new academic year looms, I'm trying to keep myself focused on research, and in particular on a project concerning the cultural geography of opera (forthcoming as an edited volume of essays). This is a field that has long fascinated me, and not only because opera, as a cultural form that's all about power, is intimately bound up with the physical expression of that power in its sites and practices. I started thinking more seriously about it back in 2009, when I was blogging for the BBC for the year on Handel, and did a set of "Handel walks" around London. These brought home to me not only the geography of power (have a look at the map below to see how close the opera house was to Handel's wealthy patrons), but its intimacy, and relevance to Handel's daily life.
I'm also interested in cultural geography because I think contemporary culture is tending increasingly to value the physical and tangible in the experience of art. More than this, it values immersion, whether it be in art installations that engage multiple senses and manifest themselves dynamically as the viewer/participant moves through them (Banksy's Dismaland is a fantastic example of this, working on several levels), in site-specific theatre of the kind made famous by Punch Drunk, in multi-franchise products that move (say) from book to film to video game to theatre to theme park (Harry Potter), or in the burgeoning world of country-house opera (my current research interest). This may seem paradoxical at a time when the digital and the virtual dominate our lives - but actually, I think it's an expression of that new perspective, both in reaction against virtual reality, and in recognition of the ease with which we can insert ourselves into a (semi-)fictional narrative, re-making ourselves as we would like to be. For that reason we value the 'liveness' (or perhaps the 'livedness') of our cultural experiences all the more. After all, what is the fashion for blogs but an attempt to vivify an otherwise-frozen website?