International Conference

University of Caen Normandie


17 May- 18 May 2018




Transfigured Voices:


Vocal disorders, disruptions and impersonations






Organising committee :


-ERIBIA research team, Caen University (France)

-IDEA research team, Lorraine University (France)


General theme: 


The conference aims to examine the configurations and representations of the modified, alienated or affected sung voice in literature and the arts.


Main objectives:


In Gaston Leroux’s 1910 Phantom of the Opera, a young opera singer, who is about to lose her voice after her father’s death, becomes wildly successful thanks to the lessons given by a mysterious “Angel of Music.” In turn, the official prima donna makes a fool of herself while singing her showpiece aria, as she croaks a wrong note, which the author identifies in jest with spitting up a real toad. In this text, Leroux recycles a melomaniac literary tradition which, ever since E.T.A. Hoffmann’s fantastic tales, has nourished a fertile imagination surrounding singing and voices such as the mechanical, mystical, ghostly or forbidden voices which the characters in Jacques Offenbach’s 1881 Tales of Hoffmann take turn illustrating.

This conference seeks to investigate the representations of the sung voice in relation to states of alienation or transformation. We particularly seek to address the notion of transfiguration or metamorphosis which can be conceived of as a result or a phenomenon, a process or a technique. In what circumstances does the voice stop being smooth, transparent and self-evident, and instead, becomes a hindrance which troubles us? What voices make us feel ill-at-ease? What forms of vocality embarrass us to the point of causing rejection? When could we speak of friction and discordance between voices rather than harmonious relationships? What happens when the voice will no longer respond and sinks into illness and mutism instead?


Papers will be delivered in three research areas:


1. Vocal disorders and afflictions: the conference will focus on vocal damage and ailments. It will deal with silenced vocality, the notions of vocal discomfort and trauma, oppressed and stifled voices. It will also discuss hoarseness, loss of voice and all sorts of pathological states of phonation.


2. Disruptions and transgressions: papers are invited to question voice-related transgressions as well as all kinds of conflicts or tensions between spoken and sung voices (such as passages between recitative and aria). It is also possible to look into the issue of lost and recovered voices.


3. Vocal impersonations and transformations: the conference will discuss the blurring of vocal categories, generic exchanges, the issues of the ambiguous sexual and erotic aspects of the voice. It will also cover the topics of voices technologically transformed, such as those found in recordings or in cases of mechanical transformation of the voice, and examples of artificially created voices or misleading uses of vocality.






Key Speaker : Stephen VARCOE, baritone


STEPHEN VARCOE is well known for his work in concerts and recordings. He has appeared with many leading orchestras in the UK, Europe, Japan and North America, and he has often taken part in the BBC Proms and other festivals throughout the world. Stephen is also known for his concerts of songs with piano in many themes and styles.


Over the years he has appeared in a wide range of operas, from Telemann’s Pimpinone with Peter Seymour to Debussy’s La chute de la maison Usher in Lisbon, Tavener’s Mary of Egypt in Snape, Monteverdi’s Orfeo in Tokyo, several productions of Britten’s Noye’s Fludde, and Haydn’s L’Infedelta delusa in Antwerp, and so on. From 1992 onwards he has taken part in many performances of Jonathan Miller’s staging of Bach’s St Matthew Passion, first of all in London, and subsequently in churches and theatres in the UK and abroad, including four seasons at the Brooklyn Academy, New York.


Stephen’s voice features on about 150 CDs; with Sir John Eliot Gardiner in Purcell, Handel and Bach; with Richard Hickox for Chandos Records, encompassing works by Britten, Holst, Vaughan Williams, Beethoven, the complete Haydn masses and the complete Percy Grainger series. His long-standing relationship with Hyperion Records has produced many recital discs: Hahn, Chabrier, Fauré and Schubert with Graham Johnson; Finzi, Gurney, Parry and Stanford with Clifford Benson, and Armstrong Gibbs with Roger Vignoles. He has also recorded works by Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Osborne, Musgrave and Tavener.


In 2009 he completed a PhD at the University of York on the subject of song performance. Stephen teaches at the Royal College of Music in London and at Summer Schools in Dartington, Sherborne and Toronto. His book, Sing English Song, is a guide to repertoire and interpretation, and he has contributed chapters to the Cambridge Companion to Singing and The New Percy Grainger Companion.