The Nightingale and Other Short Fables: Co-authoring Atypical Opera

  • Melissa Poll
Part of the Adaptation in Theatre and Performance book series (ATP)


This chapter theorizes how Robert Lepage’s scenographic dramaturgy adapts Igor Stravinsky’s atypically structured, one-act symphonic poem, Le Rossignol. An outline of the open-ended dramaturgy featured in atypical operas and the genre’s increased availability to auteur-ed performance texts will preface this case study. The body of this chapter explores the ways in which Lepage creates a hyper-aestheticized, twenty-first-century version of Le Rossignol’’s nineteenth-century chinoiserie, offering a post-Orientalist comment on globalization and cultural commodification. The production’s narrative is over-written by a scenographic conceit based on the evolution of puppetry, which features acrobatic shadow play, Taiwanese hand puppets and Vietnamese water puppetry performed in an orchestra pit flooded with twenty-seven tons of water. In this, Lepage demonstrates how light, space, sound, movement and puppetry can shape and develop open-ended texts, providing the external dramaturgical framework necessary to expand incomplete extant scores into full-length operas.


  1. Bagnoli, Giorgio. 1993. The La Scala Encyclopedia of the Opera. New York: Simon & Schuster.Google Scholar
  2. Baillie, Andrea. 2009. ‘New Lepage Opera Dazzles as Puppets Perform in Water-Filled Pool’. Canadian Press, October 18, Accessed 17 June 2014.
  3. Barthes, Roland. 2012. ‘On Bunraku’. Translated by Sandy MacDonald. Puppetry: A Reader in Theatre Practice, edited by Penny Francis, 133–6. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  4. Bartók, Bela, and Béla Bélazs. 1964. Bluebeard’s Castle. In The Powell & Pressburger Pages, Accessed 2 December 2017.
  5. Bernheimer, Martin. 2008. ‘The Damnation of Faust, Metropolitan Opera, NY’. The Financial Times, November 10, Nexus UK Global News & Business Service.Google Scholar
  6. ———. 2011. ‘Siegfried, Metropolitan Opera, New York’. The Financial Times, October 31, Accessed 18 July 2014.
  7. Bernstein, Tamara. 2009. ‘Stravinsky: The Nightingale and Other Short Fables’. The Globe and Mail, October 19, Nexus UK Global News & Business Service.Google Scholar
  8. Borchert, Gavin. 2009. ‘Grindings and Flutterings at Seattle Opera’. Seattle Weekly News, February 24, Accessed 23 January 2014.
  9. Brotton, Jerry. 2002. The Renaissance Bazaar: From the Silk Road to Michelangelo. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Clements, Andrew. 2011. ‘The Damnation of Faust—review’. The Guardian, May 7, Accessed 26 February 2014.
  11. Coulbourn, John. 2009. ‘Robert Lepage’s brilliant direction takes this operatic pastiche to new heights’. The Toronto Sun, October 18, Accessed 10 March 2014.
  12. Couturier, Véronique. 2009. ‘The Nightingale and Other Short Fables’. Accessed 25 January 2017.
  13. Craft, Robert. 2010. ‘Histoire du Soldat/Le Renard’. Naxos, Accessed 31 March 2014.
  14. Curry, Michael. 2009. ‘The Puppetry of The Nightingale & Other Short Fables’. Video. Canadian Opera Company, Accessed 14 June 2014.
  15. Defraeye, Piet. 2000. ‘The Staged Body in Lepage’s Musical Productions’. In Theatre Sans Frontières: Essays on the Dramatic Universe of Robert Lepage, edited by Joseph I. Donohoe, Jr. and Jane M. Koustas, 79–94. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Denis, Jean-Luc. 1987. ‘Questions sur une demarche’. Jeu 45: 159–63, Accessed 1 March 2015.
  17. D’Ornellas, Daniel. 2014. ‘The Canadian Opera Company announces the 2014/2015 season!’. Parlando: The COC Blog, January 15, Accessed 27 March 2014.
  18. Everett-Green, Robert. 2009. ‘The Conversion of Robert Lepage’. The Globe and Mail, January 25, Nexus UK Global News & Business Service.Google Scholar
  19. Fabbri, Paolo. 2003. ‘Metrical and Formal Organisation’. In Opera in Theory and Practice, Image and Myth, edited by Lorenzo Bianconi and Giorgio Pestelli, 151–220. Chicago: University of Chicago.Google Scholar
  20. Fouquet, Ludovic. 2005. Robert Lepage: L’Horizon en Images. Québec: L’instant meme.Google Scholar
  21. Francis, Penny. 2012. Puppetry: A Reader in Theatre Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Frieze, James. 1997. ‘Channelling Rubble: Seven Streams of the River Ota and After Sorrow’. Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism 12(1): 133–42.Google Scholar
  23. Gaboriault, Derek. 2009. ‘Vietnamese Water Puppet Theatre: A Look Through the Ages’. Dissertation. University of Western Kentucky.Google Scholar
  24. Gilbert, Bernard. 2011. Le Rossignol, Renard et Autres Fables. Québec: Alto and Ex Machina.Google Scholar
  25. ———. 2014. ‘Re: Ring Question’. Message to Melissa Poll, July 14, email.Google Scholar
  26. Gorrell, Lorraine. 2002. Discordant Melody: Alexander Zemlinsky, His Songs, and the Second Viennese School. Westport: Greenwood.Google Scholar
  27. Gottler, Mara. 2009. Interview by Melissa Poll, August 23, Vancouver, Canada.Google Scholar
  28. ———. 2013. ‘RE: Questions’. Message to Melissa Poll, March 25, email.Google Scholar
  29. Harvie, Jennifer. 2000. ‘Transnationalism, Orientalism, and Cultural Tourism: La Trilogie des dragons and The Seven Streams of the River Ota’. In Theatre Sans Frontières: Essays on the Dramatic Universe of Robert Lepage, edited by Joseph I. Donohoe Jr. and Jane M. Koustas, 109–26. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Head, Matthew. 2003. ‘Musicology on Safari: Orientalism and the Spectre of Postcolonial Theory’. Music Analysis 22.1/2 (March–July): 211–30. Project Muse.Google Scholar
  31. Holoman, D. Kern. 1992. ‘The Damnation of Faust’. Oxford Music Online.Google Scholar
  32. Hudson, Chris, and Denise Varney. 2012. ‘Transience and Connection in Robert Lepage’s the Blue Dragon: China in the Space of Flows’. Theatre Research International 37(2): 134–47.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Imschoot, Myriam Van. 2005. ‘Anxious Dramaturgy’. Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, 13:2: 57–68. JSTOR.Google Scholar
  34. Isherwood, Charles. 2008. ‘Operatic Acting? Oxymoron No More’. The New York Times, November 10, Accessed 10 February 2014.
  35. Johnson, Lawrence A. 2010. ‘Glorious singing trumps audacious but muddled production in Lyric Opera’s “Damnation of Faust”’. Chicago Classical Review, February 21, Accessed 13 May 2014.
  36. Joseph, Charles M. 2001. Stravinsky Inside Out. New Haven: Yale University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kang, Angela. 2001. ‘Musical Chinoiserie’. Dissertation. University of Nottingham.Google Scholar
  38. Keillor, John. 2009. ‘Stravinsky Spectacle is Dazzling’. The National Post, October 19, Nexus UK Global News & Business Service.Google Scholar
  39. Kerish, David. 2002. ‘The Mud and the Wind: An Inquiry into Dramaturgy’. New Theatre Quarterly 18.70: 284–9. Cambridge Journals Online.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Krebs, Katja. 2014. ‘Ghosts we have seen before: Trends in Adaptation in Contemporary Performance’. Theatre Journal 66(4): 581–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lehmann, Hans-Thies. 2006. Postdramatic Theatre. Translated by Karen Jürs-Munby. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Lei, Daphne Pi-Wei. 2011. ‘Interruption, Intervention, Interculturalism: Robert Wilson’s HIT Productions in Taiwan’. Theatre Journal 63(4): 571–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lepage, Robert. 2009. Interview by Gordon Bowness. ‘Operatic Chinoiserie’. Daily Xtra, October 7, Accessed 5 April 2014..
  44. ———. 2014. Q Interview by Jian Ghomeshi. ‘Q’. CBC Radio, April 2, Accessed 3 April 2014.
  45. Lepage, Robert, and Rémy Charest. 1997. Connecting Flights. Translated by Wanda Romer Taylor. London: Methuen.Google Scholar
  46. Lepage, Robert, and Stéphan Bureau. 2008. Interview by Stéphan Bureau. Stéphan Bureau Rencontre Robert Lepage. Verdun: Amérik Média.Google Scholar
  47. Macdonald, Arnold. 1992. ‘The Nightingale’. Oxford Music Online.Google Scholar
  48. Murray, Simone. 2012. The Adaptation Industry: The Cultural Economy of Contemporary Literary Adaptation. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  49. Neighbour, W. O. 1992. ‘Bluebeard’s Castle’. Oxford Music Online.Google Scholar
  50. Pang, Kevin. 2010. ‘Damnation of Faust is Devilishly Cool’. The Chicago Tribune, March 11, Accessed 20 March 2014.
  51. Pasler, Jann. 1986. ‘Introduction’. In Confronting Stravinsky: Man, Musician, and Modernist, edited by Jann Pasler, ix–xix. Berkeley: University of California.Google Scholar
  52. Pearson, Mike and Michael Shanks. 2001. Theatre/Archaeology: Disciplinary Dialogues. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  53. Pegley, Karen, and Catherine Graham. 2002. ‘Visualizing the Music: Robert Lepage’s staging of Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung for the Canadian Opera Company’. Canadian Theatre Review 109 (January): 73–7. International Bibliography of Theatre and Dance.Google Scholar
  54. Picon-Vallin, Béatrice. 2010. ‘La Création Collective Au Soleil’. Avant Scène Théâtre numéro spécial sur le Théâtre du Soleil: 86–97, Accessed 1 September 2014.
  55. Sadie, Stanley, and John Tyrrell. 2000. The New Grove Stravinsky. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  56. Schoenberg, Arnold. 1987. Arnold Schoenberg: Letters. Translated by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins, edited by Ernst Kaiser. London: Faber.Google Scholar
  57. Sen, Ong Keng. 2007. ‘The New Chinoiserie’. Interview with James Leverett. Theatre 37 (1): 55–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Singleton, Brian. 2014. ‘Performing Orientalist, Intercultural, and Globalised Modernities’. In The Politics of Interweaving Performance Cultures: Beyond Postcolonialism, edited by Erika Fischer-Lichte, Torsten Jost, and Saskya Iris Jain, 77–93. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  59. Temperley, Nicholas. 1992. ‘The Twentieth Century’. Oxford Music Online.Google Scholar
  60. Terauds, John. 2009. ‘The Nightingale and Other Fables: Theatrical Magic’. The Toronto Star, October 17, Accessed 22 January 2014.
  61. Thomaidis, Konstantin. 2013. ‘The Vocal Body’. In Body and Performance, edited by Sandra Reeve. Devon: Triarchy Press, Kindle.Google Scholar
  62. Tommasini, Anthony. 2011. ‘Stravinsky’s Tales, Dunked in the Spin Cycle’. The New York Times, March 2, Accessed 17 January 2014.
  63. Törnqvist, Egil. 1998. ‘Staging a Dream Play’. In Strindberg’s Dramaturgy, edited by Göran Stockenström, 256–90. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  64. Turner, Cathy, and Synne K. Behrndt. 2008. Dramaturgy and Performance. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  65. Ueno-Herr, Michiko. 1995. ‘Masters, Disciples, and the Art of the Bunraku Puppeteer’s Performance’. Dissertation. University of Hawaii. ProQuest.Google Scholar
  66. Walsh, Stephen. 2002. Stravinsky: A Creative Spring: Russia and France, 1882–1934. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  67. Zeiss, Laurel E. 2012. ‘The Dramaturgy of Opera’. In Cambridge Companion to Opera Studies, edited by Nicholas Till, 179–201. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Melissa Poll
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of EnglishSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada

Personalised recommendations