television opera for the stage
by Robert Ashley and Yukihiro Yoshihara
Sound Direction by Robert Ashley
Visual Direction by Yukihiro Yoshihara
Music & Libretto by Robert Ashley
Three performances only!
July 26, 27 and 28, 2001 at 22 h. / 10 pm
Palais Royal, Cour dOrleans, Paris
Sam Ashley, Thomas Buckner, Jacqueline Humbert,
Joan La Barbara and Robert Ashley, singers
"Blue" Gene Tyranny, synthesizer
Tom Hamilton, live mixing and sound processing
Cas Boumans, David Moodey, Jack Young, technical magic
Composer Robert Ashley collaborates with Japanese artist Yukihiro Yoshihara in Dust a multimedia television opera inspired by "street talk," the so-called "babble" of the marginalized and isolated. Modeled upon the medieval form of a motet, Dust layers the voices of five characters, drawing upon the practice of speaking and hearing at the same time. Introducing new techniques in vocal and orchestral styles, and featuring video projections by Yoshihara, Dust conjures up a futurist fusion of dream and reality to deal with questions of memory and irretrievable loss.
* * * * * *
Through a series
of related works over the past two decades, Robert Ashley has connected opera
with poetry, with advanced forms of narrative and with new ideas about the nature
of operatic ensemble. A major figure in American experimental music theater,
the depth of Ashleys librettos reveals a highly developed literary mind
as well as that of a first rate composer. As he did in his monumental opera
tetralogy, Now Eleanors Idea, Ashley derives Dusts orchestral fabric
(rhythms, pitches, instrumental sounds) and vocal style (voice and pitch assignments,
rules for vocal inflection) from elements discovered in an analysis of the libretto
Ashley likens the street-corner discussion he has tried to reproduce in Dust where characters are simultaneously hearing and comprehending each other, even while speaking fervently to the medieval motet, in which the cantus firmus is sung to a regular rhythm by one voice and elaborated on by one or two more voices. In Dust there is also the setting of independent texts, sometimes about different subjects love songs, political songs, poetry a practice that made the medieval motet as much a secular entertainment as church music.The setting and plot of Dust is established in the opening section. A collection of street people live in an imaginary park among them, their hero, the man who lost his legs in some unnamed war. Throughout the opera the street people recount stories from the youth of this man, and they sing songs that he remembers from the time when he was in an army hospital. In the pivotal section of the opera, all of the performers sing together, as "a perfect imitation" of the speech of the man-with-no-legs, as he recalls the experience of losing his legs and, under the influence of the morphine he was given to ease his pain, his conversation with God.
Video Director Yukihiro Yoshihara created a multi-screen
video presentation for Dust. Precisely synchronized to the electronic
orchestra, the video is projected in large and small formats, and also serves
as the principal stage lighting source. The singers stand behind panels of industrial
glass, whose opacity is controlled by an electric current. The performers are
brought in and out of obvious view, as determined by the music and narrative.
Mr. Yoshihara states: "If opera is a composite art that is supported with an overabundance of direction, then my production for Dust is justifiably placed in the opera genealogy. This opera, however, is a television opera delivered through multimedia. An opera space comes into being by synchronizing the multi-track video images that I made with Robert Ashleys five voices. By placing a special glass in front of the performers transparent, but not transparent I have created the visual effect of an actual person being made into a reflection. I hope that upon entering this magical theater space, the listener/viewer will be steeped in a simply extraordinary, pleasant feeling due to the amplification of the sensations of distance and sound."
"The genuine raconteurs of this world often occupy the lower orders of society. It is the vagrants, street people, laborers and menials who practice the gift of anecdote with such superior grace, for telling things well is for them an act of survival. Loss is relentless in all our lives, but especially for those whose futures promise little chance to recoup. Stories become shelters, keeping out the cold when everything else has been taken away.
As a composer, Mr. Ashley is a superior writer. He has the gift of simple language that springs forward with a wonderful rhythmic grace. The pauses are deftly calculated. Sometimes words bleed into musical tones, but most of the music is in simple pop-chord harmonies moving through basic cadences. Said in a better way, the true music in Dust is in the language and its delivery. The observation is acute yet low-keyed. The ironies are gentle. There are no cries of rage for lives unjustly left unfulfilled. In their place are stories, wonderfully told, stories that provide order and redemption in shattered lives."
Bernard Holland, The New York Times, 04/17/99
Dust was commissioned by Kanagawa Arts Foundation, Yokohama, Japan, and by Dorothea Tanning, New York. The first performance took place in Yokohama on November 15, 1998. Additional performances have taken place in New York at The Kitchen (April, 1999), the Warsaw Autumn Festival (September, 1999), and at the Festspeilhaus, St. Polten, Austria (November, 2000.)
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