Masters thesis

Read the short overview of the masters thesis of Madis Nurms 

The article was published in magazine Teater.Muusika.Kino and is available in Estonian in pdf format. Read the first part and the second part.  


The English summary of the thesis:

"Postmodern eclecticism in the scenography of opera productions"


The thesis studies the developments of opera scenography over the past three decades in opera productions staged in Western Europe and North America. The aim of the work is to map the current situation and finding an answer to the main problem - whether the postmodernist cultural logic can also be found in set- and costume design in theater, and, if so - what are the key characteristics?


To investigate the relationship between postmodern thought and scenography, grounded theory is used as a research methodology. The purpose of the study is to examine the patterns in the artwork of contemporary scenographers. As a result the opera productions were divided into theoretical three-step model and analysed.


t The postmodernist scenography has received very little theoretical attention; hence the study

uses writings of influential architectural theorists Charles Jencks, Robert Venturi and Philip Johnson as the theoretical basis for the analysis. Scenography and architecture are of a similar nature - the central element of both is design of the three-dimensional space. However, the theoretical model also uses a variety of works by theatre theorists - including views and observations of Luule Epner, John H. Birringer, Arnold Aronson et al.


Work is divided into two sections:

The first part is based on the visual analysis of the contemporary scenography trough various opera productions. From the visual observations results a theoretical model, which summarizes the contemporary scenography (based on similarities in the creative work) into three large categories:

1.  mimetic approach

2.  modernist approach

3.  postmodernist approach


Visual analysis revealed that the characteristics of postmodernist thought are clearly distinguishable in the scenography of contemporary opera productions. The distinctive feature of postmodernist approach seems to be eclecticism - mixture of styles. Alternative approaches are the mimetic and the modernist approach, witch have the requirement of one pure style as the main trait. These two, however, are separated in turn by the way the requirement is implemented - mimetic scenography is intended to mimic the original, while the modernist approach in contemporary productions is pushing for originality.


The second part of the thesis is participatory study - on the basis of the regularities found in the first part a method of selective eclectics is suggested and its suitability tested in the practice of making of scenography for opera "Thai's" by J. Massenet (stage director Mai Murdmaa, premiere on May 22nd, 2009, Parnu Endla Theater).


Three large categories in the first part inspired the three-step method suggested for creating a contemporary scenography:


4) analysis of the given circumstances

5) implementation of the SAMpO principle

6) dividing into fragments


This method (of selective eclectics) was tested in practice - the fabula of the production was formulated, analysis of events in the text and mapping the structure of relations between characters was carried out. The analysis led to the appearance of space and characters in the opera production.


The thesis is important primarily in the development of the theatre theory. At present, there are no theoretical works in Estonian, which would explicate the creation process of scenography. For the first time a theoretical model is suggested, that explains the developments in contemporary opera-scenography using the terms modernism and postmodernism.


The mapped properties in the model could be of interest to the theater professionals involved in the active analysis of contemporary productions - theatre critics, but also to art- and theatre scholars, by whom the suggested model can be further developed.

The second part of the work offers a theoretical model for the creation of a meaningful scenography, which could become a practical aid for students of scenic design in systematization of their professional activity.


The Masters Thesis was supervised by Katrin Kivimaa Ph.D. and Lilja Blumenfeld MA.

Review of Masters Thesis by Kristel Pappel Ph.D. 



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