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Meet the Grantee: Josefina Irurzun

Wagner Fans Crossing the Atlantic: Travel Narratives Gathered in the Wagner Society of Buenos Aires

Studying the stories of “Wagnerites” who travelled from Argentina to Bayreuth in the late 19th or early 20th century prompted Dr Josefina Irurzun to embark on a scholarly pilgrimage herself: To join Prof Dr Kordula Knaus for a collaborative research project, to take part in discussions of current Wagner research in the city he lived and worked in for nearly a decade, and to experience music as a 18th century audience did.

Dr Josefina Irurzun Interview

What are the foci of your joint research funded by the Short Term Grant?

The purpose of my research project with Prof Dr Kordula Knaus is to study the travel narratives of Wagnerites (or Wagner fans) gathered in the Wagner Society of Buenos Aires, who had the opportunity to make the journey or "pilgrimage" to Bayreuth in the late nineteenth century,
and early twentieth century. Combining the point of view of cultural history with literary criticism, it focuses on the analysis of cultural encounters, and how they allow us to reveal traveller´s perceptions of cultural distance, and their attempts to "translate the other”
based on what was familiar to them.

The challenge of explaining how opera became a global show, and the place of Wagner’s work in that process, lead us to examine and ask about the relationships between both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, particularly Europe and South America. From musicology to history and social sciences as well as different personal backgrounds, the Short Term Grant (STG) allowed us to start connecting our individual research on how communities of fans, music critics, musicians, travelling troupes, etc. were defined in Europe and overseas at the same time.

In what way is your work interdisciplinary, and what does interdisciplinarity mean to you in academic work and life?

During my stay, I had the privilege of participating in a pre-conference event that opened the 4th Transnational Opera Studies Conference, organized jointly by the Department of Musicology and the Research Institute for Music Theatre Studies (fimt). Chaired by my host, Prof Dr Kordula Knaus, with the participation of Prof Dr Anno Mungen (fimt), Meihui Yu (Medieval Studies), and myself, the panel discussion focussed on current Wagner Research in Bayreuth.

Haus Wahnfried was certainly the best-chosen place for an intense and fruitful discussion in which interdisciplinarity constituted a key question to think about our own reflexivity and our links with other disciplines. Even though my work explores through the lenses of cultural history, it was truly stimulating to me to discover other approaches and future new links with other disciplines and researchers.

What is in your opinion the future of your field and in what way can research in your field contribute to meeting the urgent challenges of our time?

Mobility and migrations are key aspects to explain any process linked to modernity and postmodernity. As many historians have shown, Argentina is a special chapter in the history of emigration. By the end of the nineteenth century, immigrants constituted a very high proportion of the population. Therefore, the foundation of a Wagnerian Society in Buenos Aires (1912-1913) was a process that unified very different fan communities. My PhD research showed the leadership of a group of Catalan immigrants who had previously experienced Wagnerian passion in Barcelona.

Since the migrant character of the opera has always created new cultural and artistic forms, one of the challenges is to explain the mutations produced by its circulation. Writing an alternative history of the modernization of world lyric stages would be possible if we take into account the multiple effects of the circulation of artists, singers, opera companies and impresarios but also the mobility of the public, fans and theatre critics. To see the interactions of local dynamics with larger contexts probably also helps us to see present challenges as globally connected issues which require our compromise.

What does international research mobility mean to you?

As we can see in the lines above, international research mobility is highly important to improve the study of processes that concern a variety of disciplines and academic transnational fields. To be able to compare and exchange different approaches, methods and perspectives between researchers that come from a variety of backgrounds, helps to challenge the divisions and isolation produced not only by the covid-19 pandemic, but also by the worrying rise of anti-democratic forces, ethno-political violence and xenophobia. The purpose of the Bayreuth Humboldt Centre and his fellowship programs are crucial to deal with these current concerns.

How did the current challenges influence your cooperation?

The Covid-19 pandemic made it difficult for people to move internationally. Making travel plans during 2020-2021 was stressful. I had to reschedule my STG. In the meantime, I had the opportunity to participate with an online lecture in the Junior Scholar Opera Conference (2021) and to connect with my host Prof Dr Kordula Knaus, the Department of Musicology and fimt.

Fortunately, 2022 brought the opportunity to be present in Bayreuth. Once I arrived, I was fascinated with the city, its culture, citizens and academic campus life. My host, and the members of the Department of Musicology, e.g. Johanna Danhauser, created a very warm atmosphere during my stay. The development of the 4th Transnational Opera Studies Conference did the rest. Attending a concert at the Margravial Opera House specially organized in the framework of the conference, allowed me to exercise my historical imagination about how the 18th century audience experienced opera. Thanks to the kind support of Kristina Unger, it was also possible for me to access to the National Archives of the Richard-Wagner-Stiftung Bayreuth. Hopefully, further joint research and collaboration will lead us to interesting new ways of connecting ideas.

Dr Josefina Irurzun has a PhD in History from the National University of La Plata, a Professorship and a Bachelor of History from the National University of the Center of the Province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Her research focuses on the intersections between cultural history, music, politics, and immigration in Argentina. She is a current CONICET postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Social Studies of Latin America (CESAL-UNICEN-CIC), and an adjunct professor of Cultural History at FASTA University. In 2016 she won the first essay prize by the Ricardo Rojas National Museum, Argentina, and is the author of "Una afición transatlántica. Cultura musical e inmigración catalana en Buenos Aires 1880-1920" (Buenos Aires, Imago Mundi, 2021).

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