Joe Cadagin holds a PhD in Musicology from Stanford University, and has been a long-time journalist in the world of opera. He is a regular features writer and recording critic for Opera News, and a former contributor to San Francisco Classical Voice and Fanfare. His public writing centres on opera with emphasis on works written in the past 60 years, particularly those by little-known, underrated, and underrepresented composers. Joe is the JHI's 2021-22 New Media Public Humanities Fellow.
JHI: What are your main research interests?
JC: I am a musicologist, and I specialize in the work Hungarian composer György Ligeti, whose weird and wonderful Lewis Carroll madrigals I explored in my dissertation. Related to this research, I’m interested in contemporary vocal repertoire based on Alice in Wonderland. My latest project examines a 2007 operatic adaptation by Ligeti’s student, Korean composer Unsuk Chin. Alongside my academic pursuits, I serve as a features writer and recording critic for Opera News magazine, mainly reviewing CDs and DVDs of world premieres.
JHI: What research project(s) are you working on now at the JHI and why did you choose it?
JC: I will be developing a podcast entitled Opera Obscura, which I’ve dreamed of producing for the past few years. Like many opera fans, I’m an avid recording collector and an obsessive consumer of this addicting art form. I’ve listened to (an obscene) 850 works since first encountering La bohème in high school. In my excavations of bargain bins and back catalogues, I’ve unearthed some bizarre operatic specimens from the past few decades: sci-fi spectacles, celebrity tragedies, and even a surrealist extravaganza starring Dalí himself. In most cases, these are works that are no longer mounted (or were never performed live in the first place!), their existence preserved only on dusty, out-of-print CDs. In showcasing these forgotten masterpieces on my podcast, I hope to generate some curiosity about their creators—many of whom are still living—and perhaps pave the way for overdue revivals.
JHI: What experiences are you hoping for at the JHI?
JC: In honour of my gracious Canadian hosts (I’m from the States), I wanted to devote my first episode to a Canuck composer. R. Murray Schafer, who sadly passed away in August after suffering from Alzheimer’s, is a figure whose all-embracing music I’ve admired since reviewing his massive end-of-days oratorio Apocalypsis. For Opera Obscura, I’ll be discussing his Ra, an all-night work of ritual theatre that follows the Egyptian sun god’s passage through the Underworld. I plan to take advantage of my year in Toronto by interviewing cast and crew members who were involved with his first (and only) production. I also intend to do some on-the-scene investigation at the Ontario Science Centre, where Ra premiered in 1983.
JHI: Share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by.
JC: I recently discovered the little-known world of Yiddish-language cinema that flourished right before the Holocaust. There’s an American-produced film from 1939, Tevya, that’s based on the same Sholem Aleichem stories that inspired Fiddler on the Roof. The final reconciliation between Tevya and his daughter Chava in this earlier movie is one of the most moving scenes I’ve ever seen—I’ve never sobbed so hard at an ending!
JHI: What is a fun fact about you?
JC: I tinkle at the piano in my spare time. My favourite composer to play lately has been Alexander Scriabin, who wrote some really psychedelic sonatas steeped in mysticism. During grad school, I also took up the harpsichord, since I figured I’d never have another chance to play this fantastic baroque keyboard.
This profile is part of the JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight, a series where we highlight each Fellow, their interests, and their research so that you can get to know them a little better.