La MaMa E.T.C. in association with Mutable Music's Interpretations series, is pleased to present the cycle of Robert Ashley's three latest operas - Dust (1998), Celestial Excursions (2003), and Made Out of Concrete (2007/09) - in newly designed productions, running from January 15 through January 25. The retrospective, which packs 10 performances into 11 days, features a cast of new music luminaries including Sam Ashley, Thomas Buckner, Jacqueline Humbert, and Joan La Barbara, who have sung Ashley's work for more than 20 years, and Tom Hamilton, who processes and mixes the voices and the orchestra. This special event will also feature performances by Robert Ashley, now in all three operas, pioneer video artist/choreographer Joan Jonas in Celestial Excursions, and keyboard player "Blue" Gene Tyranny in Dust.
Ashley's music has been praised for bringing opera into the multimedia age with multi-layered, accelerated scores whose rhythms are natural to our times. Through the exploration of stream-of-consciousness poetry, rigorous rhythmic storytelling, and unusual narrative forms, Ashley has invented the possibility of a new kind of opera ensemble and an innovative vocal and orchestral vocabulary. These three works brilliantly display the composer's idiosyncratic voice and his compelling preoccupation with American vernacular speech and the states of mind of seemingly ordinary people.
Composed in 1998 as "a television opera for the stage," Dust is inspired by the so-called ramblings of the homeless on New York City streets. A group of people livig in an imaginary park recounts the experiences of one of them, a man who lost his legs in some unnamed war, and who, under the influence of morphine, conversed with God. Characters talk about love, politics, missed opportunities and life-changing events, conjuring up irretrievable loss and damage. The opera explores the medieval form of the motet, in which the cantus firmis is sung to a regular rhythm by one voice, and then elaborated on by three or four other voices. Premiered in Japan in 1998 and in the U.S. at The Kitchen in 1999, Dust was re-staged at the Teatro Comunale de Ferrara/Aterforum Festival 2008. The new version has not been seen in America.
With Celestial Excursions, Ashley ventures into the uncharted territory of the language of old people. Set in the confined world of "assisted living," the opera delves into the wild intermingling of loss, regret, nightmares, old sayings and old songs on the radio. The opera's originality lies in a vocal ensemble technique, unique to Ashley, which puts the vocal soloist in the midst of a swirling chorus. The result is a mesmerizing layering of voices, delivered with extraordinary rhythmic intensity rarely heard before. Celestial Excursions was created for the Hebbel-Theater/Maerz-Music in Berlin and The Kitchen in New York in 2003.
MADE OUT OF CONCRETE
Made Out of Concrete makes public the ruminations of an old, isolated man and his reminiscences of friends who have gambled spectacularly with money or their lives. The work is structured around several "internal discussions" reflecting the jumble of everyday thoughts about ideas which are "right in front of us," and for which the singers use a rapid and rhythmically altered conversational style. Interjected into these discussions are solo arias which tell the "secret" lives of people the old man has known - ordinary people who did extraordinary things for which they will never be recognized. In Made Out of Concrete, singers are entirely free of any obligation to bars and beats - this is storytelling in song. First presented as Concrete at La MaMa in January 2007, this production features a new character and the appearance of Ashley as a singer.
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