Saturday, April 9, 2011

new beginnings on old neverendings

today i was supposed to go to enschede to see some costume possibilities for "aureliano in palmira" that michelle cantwell is working on. the work is about the culture clashes of east and west, the consequences of our geo-political actions, the universality of love. because of that i want to set in in way that it connects with out current mid-east realities, but also not accept that as enough - rather find a setting the evokes the former, but also evokes the eternal and the ancient. i'm not making poor michelle's life any easier. anyway, the meeting didn't happen so i have an unexpected free day in amsterdam. the weather is stunning, people are out everywhere, and i'm at my window staring out as a i work. And what am i working on? a guilty little pleasure...

i began my formative artistic adulthood as a composer. that was 10 years ago, and i haven't composed since. its not that i gave up, or didn't want to do it, but i discovered that the impetus behind all my work was essentially dramatic. whatever i wrote had a dramatic undercurrent motivating it and me, and so i found theater later than most, but as a way to more acutely satisfy the urge that had been pushing me to compose. now the two worlds collide. my good friend brian areolla, a tremendously talented tenor and actor, asked me if i would like to do a project together with him. i jumped at the chance, and after considering several options, i suggested a song-cycle i had finished in 2001 for soprano, but which had never been performed. it is called "songs of the fisherman"...and now i'm hard at work rewriting to to fit a new ensemble and a new voice type. and, i'm loving it. the piece is epic, about 90 minutes, and is 8 songs and four instrumental movements. the whole musical language is in turn inspired by a cello piece i wrote some years earlier. the poetry is by a brilliant friend from college now doing important and captivating work in english medieval studies named andrew albin. it is strikingly truthful poetry, and it has always been a sore point for me that it has never been performed.

and now? well, the project is to mount the song-cycle as a staged work, collaborating with a fantastic dancer and choreographer, and to record it for dvd release, along with the original cello work as well. this experience is particularly exciting because, as a director, i get to turn my typical deconstruction and reconstruction approach in on myself. the original song-cycle essentially explores human solitude, yearning, loneliness. for the staging we want something more directly connected to today. we are going to transform this abstract work into one that traces the emotional experience of being an immigrant, of being an "other". it won't have any political mantra or agenda, but rather just explore what it feels like to be in that condition psychologically. it is really great fun to work again in this way.

on a completely different note, i spent the morning starting to learn "les dialogue des carmelites", which i'm directing in a workshop performance this summer in milan. its strange how my whole year, a year that has been extremely positive for me professionally and personally, has focused, in its work, on death, and more essentially the decision to live or to die. "dido", "la voix humaine", "les dialogues", "don giovanni"...for me all these pieces are about that decision. as camus says, suicide is the most fundamental philosophical question. to face either and both life and death in the face.

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