Check out this wonderful interview with David Almond on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs series. David discusses children’s literature and the music he’d want if he were a castaway. Thirty minutes into the interview he talks about the opera version of Skellig, on which he collaborated with composer Tod Machover. Here’s what BBC program says about David:
Most of his work is for children but the adults who populate the juries of heavyweight literary prizes really like it too. The accolades began with his first novel Skellig published in 1998 when he was 47; it won the mighty “Whitbread Children’s” award and then many others besides.
Ever since, he’s been acclaimed for his ability to craft complex, philosophical narratives with strikingly down to earth characterisations.
One of the operabots from the cast of Death and the Powers went AWOL a few days ago from the Media Lab. It turned up yesterday in, of all places, the Dallas Cowboys Stadium! Apparently it was invited there to help publicize the Dallas Opera’s 2013-2014 season, which will include a simulcast of Turandot this April. Death and the Powers performances are scheduled for February 12, 14, 15 and 16 of next year.
According to the Dallas Morning News, the Dallas Opera’s production of Death and the Powers “will feature baritone Robert Orth as the dying entrepreneur Simon Powers, soprano Joélle Harvey as Miranda, mezzo Patricia Risley as Evvy and tenor Hal Cazalet as Nicholas.
“Employing cutting-edge technology, the production will be directed by Diane Paulus, designed by Alex McDowell and conducted by Nicole Paiement. A partnership with the Perot Museum of Nature and Science will include special exhibits, lectures, demonstrations and workshops.”
My recent song composed for the opening of the National Opera Center in New York – “Open Up the House” – is now available via iTunes. Brilliant text by Letha Hafferkamp Kiddie, and beautiful performances by Merrin Lazyan and Tae Kim (all Facebook – and real-life – dear friends).
M.I.T. Media Lab graduate student Peter Torpey, a key collaborator in Tod Machover’s opera “Death and the Powers,” has published an in-depth paper detailing the opera’s groundbreaking technology in the International Journal of Performance Arts and Digital Media. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in interactive performance technology for live theater and music. You can read it here.
Digital systems for live multimodal performance in Death and the Powers.
The opera Death and the Powers by Tod Machover tells the story of a man, Simon Powers, who evades death by transferring his essence into his environment as his corporeal body dies. To realize the effect of the theatrical environment coming alive as the main character, the Opera of the Future research group at the MIT Media Lab developed new technologies and control systems for interactive robotics, sound and visuals in live theatre. A core component of this work is the technique of Disembodied Performance, a method and associated technological infrastructure that translates the live performance of the offstage opera singer into multimodal representations onstage. The author was principally responsible for the control architecture and Disembodied Performance software implementation, as well as the design of the visual language used to represent Simon Powers. These digitally enabled elements were created in order to support the story of the opera and facilitate the process of crafting and rehearsing the staged experience. This article reflects on the dialogue between the design of the technological systems in conjunction with the development of the story and scenography of the opera. Several design principles are presented for the role of new technologies in digital opera and music-driven performance contexts that arose during the course of this work. The discussed methods of cuing, authoring, organizing and collaborating suggest an approach for scoring the multimedia elements of digitally augmented stagecraft.
Listening to the brief excerpts from Skellig the other day brought back a deluge of memories about its wonderful run at the Sage Gateshead in 2008. Few people have heard the opera because it has not yet been recorded. We thought you might enjoy this glimpse from the first act. Matthew Long sings the role of Michael, and Merrin Layzan is Mina. The orchestra is the Northern Sinfonia under the baton of Garry Walker.
He was filthy and pale and dried out and I thought he was dead. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I’d soon begin to see the truth about him, that there’d never been another creature like him in the world.
Michael and his family have moved house. It was going to be wonderful. They were due to arrive in time for the spring. But everything’s dark, the place is a wreck, the garden’s a wilderness. And now Michael’s sister is dangerously ill, his parents are frantic and Doctor Death has come to call. Michael feels helpless.
Then he steps into the crumbling garage…
What is this thing beneath the spiders’ webs and dead flies?
A human being, or a strange kind of beast never seen before?
The only person Michael can confide in is Mina. Together, they bring the creature into the light, and Michael’s world changes forever…
Tod’s current project, “A Toronto Symphony”, is about active, mindful listening to the world around us, in this case the city of Toronto. The composer asks the inhabitants to focus on the sounds that evoke strong feelings, images and memories about their city and their lives, raw sounds that he will transform into music. As an example, Tod turns to his 2008 opera “Skellig”, based on David Almond’s beloved modern classic. About “Skellig”, Tod writes that it is
…an opera about the relationship between the natural world that surrounds us, our everyday perception, and the heightened perception – and action – that comes when we pay close attention – and listen - to what is really there. Hence the opera combines recorded sounds as well as transitions that find the music in those sounds via voices (a young people’s chorus) and instruments (a chamber orchestra).
Tod was in New York on Thursday recording a new song, “Open Up the House,” for soprano and piano, commissioned by Opera America to celebrate the opening of the new National Opera Center in Manhattan next month. Forty new songs – a real cross-section of contemporary American music – have been created and recorded for the occasion. It will be issued in a 3-CD set.
Tae Kim, piano, and Merrin Lazyan, soprano, recording “Open Up the House” in NYC.
From Tod’s Facebook page:
First page of score to “Open Up the House,” brand new song composed for the opening of the National Opera Center next month. I reworked the wonderful poems by Letha Hafferkamp (Kiddie) which she wrote for me almost 40 years ago, and which I set for my very first song cycle, “Three Songs.” I reused and further twisted some of the strange musical hooks from that earlier cycle in this new song. So writing this piece has been a wonderful experience of starting fresh with something from my beginnings…reassuring to know that it seems to have worked out. The song sounded great yesterday and should make a terrific recording.
Joyce DiDonato and Scott Hendricks in “Resurrection”
Listen up! The Classical Discoveries radio program on WPRB 103.3FM (Princeton, NJ) is airing Tod Machover’s opera “Resurrection” in full this Sunday, May 6, from 6:00-10:00AM (the music begins at 7:00AM). The broadcast will be available for download as an MP3 for two weeks. Host and producer Marvin Rosen “celebrates new music and living composers” on his show, which has been on the air since May 1997.
Resurrection, based on Leo Tolstoy’s final novel, was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, where it had its world premiere in 1999. The central role of Katerina Maslova went to the fresh-faced mezzo soprano Joyce DiDonato, who has since soared to the top ranks of international opera. In this live performance recording, DiDonato is featured alongside baritone Scott Hendricks (Prince Nekhlyudov), tenor Raymond Very (Peter Simonson) and the superb Houston Grand Opera orchestra and chorus under the baton of Patrick Summers. The recording was edited and re-mixed by Machover.
From a review by Opera News Online:
“…sonics, instrumental clarity and theatrical impact are all at a very high level. Machover excels at using his electro-acoustic orchestral texture to depict internal and external states of disintegration, of which there are many in the story…Most importantly, the characters spring credibly to life as fully-fleshed humans whose complex evolutions we witness…Machover emerges as a composer with a mode of musical story-telling that is powerfully immediate, a worthy goal for any contemporary opera.
Excerpt from the Overture to “Resurrection”
“Too Late” at the end of Act 1, sung by Joyce DiDonato
A wonderful bit of news today! We learned that “Death and the Powers” was one of three finalists for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music. The prize recognizes a distinguished musical composition by an American that has had its first performance or recording in the United States during the previous year (2011). The award was presented to Kevin Puts for “Silent Night: Opera in Two Acts,” commissioned and premiered by the Minnesota Opera, with a libretto by Mark Campbell (Aperto Press).
Here’s the citation from the Pulitzer Prize website: “Also nominated as finalists in this category were: Tod Machover for “Death and the Powers,” premiered by the Boston Modern Opera Project in Massachusetts on March 18, 2011, an inventive opera that uses electronic music as it explores a dying billionaire’s attempt to transcend mortality through technology, raising significant questions about human existence. Libretto by Robert Pinsky (Boosey & Hawkes)”
WBUR (90.9FM) launched its “Visionaries” series today with a feature about Tod Machover. The program airs one more time today, at 5:50PM EST, and should be available later on as a podcast. The transcript of the story is available online, together with this new video showing some of the projects at the MIT Media Lab’s Opera of the Future group. Don’t miss the wonderful footage of Dan Ellsey, a 37-year-old man with cerebral palsy, whose inner composer was set free by Hyperscore software. Watch the unfettered joy on his face as he listens to a song he composed.
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