Opera: “I’m not dead!”

Eamon Pereyra (from left) plays Jaquino, Cassandra Black is Leonore and Erica Schuller plays Marzelline in “Fidelio.”

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With all the talk about San Diego Opera, the Met Opera, and a bit further back, the closure of New York City Opera we might be quick to say that Opera is a dying art form in the US. Indeed, a recent NAI report shows that Opera attendance is steadily declining from a recent high in 2007 of 3,568,000 to 2,304,000 in 2011 (of course, this report is also showing increased attendance at Symphony Concerts from ’09 – 25,443,000 to ’11 – 26,812,000 — more than 10 million more than the declining NFL audiences in all three years. But these are besides the point.

Eamon Pereyra (from left) plays Jaquino, Cassandra Black is Leonore and Erica Schuller plays Marzelline in “Fidelio.”

Eamon Pereyra (from left) plays Jaquino, Cassandra Black is Leonore and Erica Schuller plays Marzelline in the Bollywood version of “Fidelio” by the Skylight Music Theatre.

Bill Eddin’s recent post is by guest blogger, Viswa Subarraman, conductor and Artistic Director of the Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee. Subarraman and Skylight recently produced a Bollywood version of Fidelio and the director has some things to say about the San Diego Opera’s decision to call it quits.

San Diego is choosing to go quietly into that good night. The rest of us are choosing to fight to preserve an incredible 200+ year old art form. You know how? By doing great theater. Would we love to hire the Renee Flemings of the world? Sure! But let’s be real – it ain’t gonna happen in Milwaukee. So what can we do? We can find the future Renee Flemings of the world and give them a shot at learning and honing their craft, so they can go on to those big paychecks and big stages. I’m very proud of companies such as ours and Fort Worth Opera that seem to nurture the next generation of great opera singers. It’s also great for our audience – they have the opportunity to see these wonderful artists develop right before their eyes. We also focus on our communities.

Subarraman says, “It is sad to me that a company with the resources that San Diego has doesn’t understand that downsizing, creating variety in their programming, finding young, talented singers (read cheaper) to mix with the stars on stage isn’t diluting the art form. It’s called progressing the art form.

and closes with the admonition to

Try things. You might find that you actually diversify your audience base, which might allow you to start raising even more money. Funny how that can work in so many cities where we create magic with our “diluted” companies! I’m sorry to see San Diego lose its opera company, but man… what an opportunity for some creative opera people to take those resources and bring great art to a community that still wants it.

This echoes a piece I read (thanks to You’ve Cott Mail) by Mary Wisniewski discussing all these big Opera Organizations failing while a plethora of smaller and new opera companies are cropping up all around Chicago–which shouldn’t detract from the fact that the Chicago Lyric has seen its ticket sales up 15 percent for fiscal year 2013.

The smaller Chicago Opera Theater (COT), known for out-of-the-box productions like Duke Ellington’s “Queenie Pie,” last year saw a 20 percent jump in subscribers, said general director Andreas Mitisek.

New companies have sprung up as well. Haymarket Opera Company specializes in the Baroque era, and South Shore Opera Company has done shows using African-American casts, including William Grant Still’s “Troubled Island.”

 

After my previous post, which discussed the Louisville based Thompson Street Opera Company (as well as my own Klingon Opera which premiered in Louisville), and after performing at Classical Revolution Cincinnati doing some arias from the Klingon Opera last year and getting to hear “The Bubble” by Jennifer Jolley and Kendall A. produced by NANOWorks Opera (North American New Opera Workshop) there, I’d say Opera is evolving and thriving in ways that the big organizations are masking due to all the media attention they get (that Negativity Bias at work again).

Of course, Opera’s death has been greatly exaggerated, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t evolving in ways that mass media representations of it can hope to show given the focus on big organizations. As Rosenberg notes in the link, “Slavoj Žižek and Mladen Dolar had upped the ante with Opera’s Second Death (2001). They argue that opera came into the world ‘stillborn,’ ‘as something outdated.’” and they “acknowledge that composers and wordsmiths go on writing operas, they insist that the genre remains ‘a huge relic’ and ‘an enormous anachronism.’

The irony being that in 2020 the Royal Opera in Britain has commissioned four new works for the 2020 season inspired by Žižek.

The Royal Opera will challenge leading European composers Kaija Saariaho (Finland), Mark-Anthony Turnage (UK), Luca Francesconi (Italy) and Jörg Widmann (Germany) to create large scale new operas. The vision is for four distinct operas, each one in part inspired by the composer’s response to a set of questions developed in collaboration with the philosopher Slavoj Žižek: “What preoccupies us today? How do we represent ourselves on stage? What are the collective myths of our present and future?”

In other somewhat related news, my interactive video and cello project, Camera Lucida, will be giving a performance and a talk/performance at The International Žižek Studies Conference next weekend. While we can only be there for one day of the conference and will not likely have much of a chance to interact with Žižek, our day talk/performance will focus on a piece we call “Fossils” which uses appropriated text which will be incorporated in the multi-media performance (with Acro-Dancers, Holly Price and Christopher Cox) both as a pre-recorded element and live by me.

Christine Olson dancing to Camera Lucida's "Fossils" at the Commonwealth Gallery in Madison, WI.  November 10, 2012

Christine Olson dancing to Camera Lucida’s “Fossils” at the Commonwealth Gallery in Madison, WI. November 10, 2012

 

The closest analogue I can think of to our performance would be the late, Robert Ashley’s “Different Lives” which is a completely different and more experimental way to approach opera.

Opera isn’t dead, it’s just changing far too fast for most people to understand and morphing into new forms and smaller, more nimble organizations which can produce works that can be a bit more experimental and exploratory. As long as we allow the Crisis folks to dominate the discourse, we’re not going to see much focus on this.

A Klingon Christmas Carol 2013 is nearing the end!

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Members of bomwI'pu' (the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project) with SQuja' at the Cincinnati Klingon Christmas Carol

Members of bomwI’pu’ (the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project) with SQuja’ at the Cincinnati Klingon Christmas Carol

I’ve made a couple of appearances at this year’s Cincinnati run of A Klingon Christmas Carol as a Klingon.  While most of you folks already know I do this–and have been doing this for some time now–it has been a pleasure to see the production by a different group of folks and company.

Though it is with some sadness that I’ve had to tell folks that the Cincinnati run is done (since last Sunday) and that the Chicago run has been sold out for the last week till closing night (this Sunday) it is with some honor that I can say that last year’s Chicago run is available on DVD–so win much honor now and get your own copy as this will be the only way to see the show until next year!  Of course, the musical score is written by me and recorded by my Klingon band, il Troubadore.

You can hear some snippets from the score here:

https://soundcloud.com/jon-silpyamanant/sets/klingon-music

Closing night was particularly fun as Joe Patti of Butts in the Seats actually drove a couple of hours to see the us and the show–read about his thoughts here.  On top of that, Drew McManus also gives a shout out to the me and the show.

j'onn with Joe Patti, director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University, and author of the "Butts In the Seats" blog.

j’onn with Joe Patti, director of the Vern Riffe Center for the Arts at Shawnee State University, and author of the “Butts In the Seats” blog.

And what can beat meeting the creator of the Klingon Langauge, Marc Okrand, during opening night of the Cincy production?

The Il Troubadore Klingon Music Project with the creator of the Klingon Language, Marc Okrand, after playing during the opening night of the Cincinnati Klingon Christmas Carol!

The Il Troubadore Klingon Music Project with the creator of the Klingon Language, Marc Okrand, after playing during the opening night of the Cincinnati Klingon Christmas Carol!

In other news, I finally got to see this clip of the video of our performance with the Wookiee Bellydancer as it aired on Channel 4 in the UK during the “50 Funniest Moments of 2012″–I’ve uploaded the clip to our youtube:

Strangely (or maybe appropriately?) enough, they’ve dubbed over our music with some Bollywood tune, but here, you can hear the song in the original Shyriiwook in the viral video from that performance in Chicago last year here:

I imagine this coming year will only be geekier than 2013, so don’t worry–I’m sure more photo and video documentation of the  strangeness that is my geeky musical life will continue to appear and if I have anything to say about it!

Kronos Wartet, Sci-Fi Music, and Defiance

Defiance is both a television series and video game set in the same post-apocalyptic world
Defiance is both a television series and video game set in the same post-apocalyptic world

Defiance is both a television series and video game set in the same post-apocalyptic world

It’s been a good time for Sci-Fi music. With so many blockbuster films, television series, and video games becoming practically mainstream there’s no lack of scores being written. Of most interest to me, however, is diegetic music – music that appears in the film/tv/video game universe rather than the music that appears as a score to the productions.

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A Klingon Christmas Carol

il Troubadore and Deserae at the Opening of A Klingon Christmas Carol
il Troubadore and Deserae at the Opening of A Klingon Christmas Carol

bomwI’pu’ (the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project) with Klingon Bellydancer, Deserae, perform at the opening night of Commedia Beauregard’s, “A Klingon Christmas Carol,” at the Raven Theatre in Chicago.  2012 December 1, photo by Mark Malnekoff

Friday night was officially the longest night and to celebrate my band, the il Troubadore Klingon Music Project (otherwise known as bomwI’pu’ on the planet Qo’noS), opened for Commedia Beauregard‘s Chicago production of a Klingon Christmas Carol (thlIngan ram nI’ tay bom).  Klingons obviously do not celebrate Christmas, but they do have a “Festival of the Longest Night,” ram nI’ tay.

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