Abstract for Rethinking Sound 2018

The starting point for the discussion that follows is a semi-opening scene of Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015), in which Bruce Banner, with headphones on, privately listens to “Casta diva,” an aria from Bellini’s opera Norma (1831). This paper asks a question: Why was Bruce/Hulk listening to “Casta diva”?

The present study attempts to answer this seemingly simple question with its corollaries: What does the aria represent in this scene (and the entire film)? Does the ambiguity between diegetic and nondiegetic music allow us to draw a parallel between Banner/Hulk and Norma the priestess/infanticide? How does an analysis informed by musicological consideration—e.g., that the aria was written in G rather than F major; or that the aria is heard not from the beginning but at the G-minor section (“queste sacre”)—help us rehear the aria in the context of the scene? Given that the aria is a prayer, to whom is Bruce praying, or more precisely, who is the “chaste goddess” to whom Bruce is addressing his prayer?

Drawing on the work of opera scholars and film musicologists, I explore these questions and argue that “Casta diva” is a sonic/sonified conscience of Bruce/Hulk, which resounds at three levels: semantic, musical, and spatial. A comparative analysis of Wong Kar-wai’s vastly different use of the same aria in 2046 (2004) is offered to substantiate the argument. The study concludes with brief musings on “logophobic” approach to opera as soundtrack. (238 words)