Differentiating the medial patterns of operatic adaptations: Macbeth

The processes that underlie the creation of operatic adaptations are similar to those of film adaptations, yet the language and discourse that is used in the two fields is considerably different. In opera, the adaptation is viewed as being the notated music score which contains the libretto. In film, however, discourse related to film adaptation tends to focus on the qualities of the production of the screenplay, not on the screenplay itself, viewing the film as being based on the source text instead of it being based on the screenplay. While these differences may be due to contractual issues – screenplays involving only one film production, operas involving as many stage productions as requested – and similar cultural values as those ascribed to composers also being ascribed to directors instead of the screenplay writers, it nevertheless provides a reason to consider the implications that the operatic adaptations have for the understanding of other media, including but not limited to screen-based media. This dissertation therefore argues for a reassessment of product creation processes as viewed by Adaptation Studies and Intermedial Studies through the differentiation of medial patterns of operas in intermedial and intramedial contexts. A four-phase model divided into conception, adaptation/composition, production, and reception is proposed that could realign adaptation research away from a predominantly qualitative approach that combines reception based on the aesthetics of a production, to combine quantitative and qualitative methods that also examine the text-types created by adapters. In doing so, research and education in English Studies would benefit from clearer theoretical foundations that do not mostly link a source text with the aesthetic qualities of the production, but with the textual links to the structural conventions of the medial form involved. It is proposed here that the concept of fidelity to a source text, if it must be used in research or in education, should be discussed in various forms: fidelity to the text of the source text (textual fidelity), fidelity to the structural conventions of the text-type/medium (medial fidelity), and the subjective fidelity of the aesthetics of a production (aesthetic fidelity). The splitting of the fidelity concept proposed in this research could advantage English Studies – and many other academic fields – by providing a deeper understanding related to the interpretations of a source text: do the interpretations of the source text occur in the written form in the text-type formed in the adaptation/composition phase or in the visual and/or auditory mediation of the text-type into a directed adaptation during the production phase? Has an interpretation of the text occurred through mediation of text by the adapter (e.g. screenwriter) or the director? The quantitative analysis in this research involved 75 adaptations of Macbeth in two groups of adaptations, directed and printed, and eleven categories of media, including eight operas. The analysis provided data regarding the percentage of text in each medial category and the number and type of alterations made to the text that form the patterns of each medium. Following the intermedial findings, intramedial analysis of all 14 available operatic adaptations of Macbeth was also undertaken, including three individual case studies and two comparative case studies on some lesser known Macbeth operas. The theoretical basis of the dissertation revolves around concepts by Linda Hutcheon in Adaptation Studies and Lars Elleström in Intermedial Studies. Evidence and observations from the intermedial and intramedial analyses and the case studies provide support for the extension of some of Hutcheon’s concepts (e.g. adaptation as process, and knowing and unknowing audiences) and raise issues that highlight some problematic areas of others, such as modes of engagement.


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