Three GVSU professors named Fulbright Scholars

Lisa Feurzeig uses grant to research operetta performances

By Sarah Hollis | 3/1/18 1:26am

GVL / Courtesy - Grand Valley is a top producer of both student and faculty Fulbright awards.

Grand Valley State University is a top producer of Fulbright Student and Scholar award winners. For the 2017-18 academic year, three GVSU faculty members have been selected for the Core Fulbright Scholars Program: Lisa Feurzeig, professor of music; Brian Phillips, professor of sociology; and Jitendra Mishra, professor of management.

Of the three faculty members, Feurzeig was available to speak about her experiences applying for the Fulbright program, as well as the research she conducted. 

“For any of these grants, they’re different in different countries, and then there are different ones within each country, so the one I was applying for was purely a research grant,” Feurzeig said. “I had to have a project—there was a topic I really wanted to work on—so I designed a whole project on what I thought would be worth investigating.

“For my project, it involved going to observe performances and rehearsals of a particular genre called operetta. Once I designed the plan, I then also wrote to some of the theater companies that do this genre and was able to get letters of invitation.”

Feurzeig traveled to Austria, Hungary and Germany to study operetta and the changes made to the performance of operetta in the 20th century. 

“Operetta is a genre that began in the 1850s and more or less continued to the 1930s, and during its heyday it was full of social and political critique,” Feurzeig explained. “It was always very funny and ironic and all these 'in' jokes, but also critiquing pretty much every type of social institution or political institution that there was: the military, the government, the church, family marriage, everything.

“Then, in the 20th century, some people started to present and view operetta as just about the good old days, so that element of satire started to drop out in the ways it was presented. They’re still doing the pieces that were written in the 1870s or the 1920s, but they’re just doing it in a different way. I was interested to see what people are doing now to present these works.” 

After working with three different companies—the Vienna Volksoper in Austria, the Budapest Operetta Theatre in Hungary and the Komische Oper Berlin in Germany—Feurzeig gained valuable information that has inspired further research on the topic as well as contributed to a future project.  

“Some type of comparative work, I think, is really important,” she said. “One thing that’s interesting to me is that in Europe, there’s an audience. It’s constant, and it keeps being there. But in America, I think most people know very little about this, including music scholars. So, I kind of feel an obligation to let people know here that there’s this big, diverse and living tradition over there that we’re not paying attention to."

Feurzeig said her continued research will examine the "what" and "why" of the changes that are made in the performances of operettas.

"Compared with other types of music, in operetta, people tend to take it for granted that when they’re re-performing an operetta at their theater they can change it," she said. "I found that really surprising just how much flexibility there is. The new direction of my research is to think about when people make changes, what changes do they make and why.”

Feurzeig will speak about her work and research on Friday, March 30, at noon in the Cook-DeWitt Center. 

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