Posts tagged Opera
March comes in like a lion: Bard Opera and More, March 2016

Here's the scene: I write from the stage of the Sosnoff Theater - the sixty-piece orchestra of conservatory musicians is playing in the pit and my Vocal Arts Program colleagues are singing beside me as we rehearse the vibrantly colorful score of Higglety Pigglety Pop! by Oliver Knussen. I don't show up for another twenty-minutes (in my golden costume designed by Liene Dobraja), so I'm taking some time to write, share reflections from Winterreise earlier this month and think forward to revisiting Dust in the Bottomland.

Higglety Pigglety Pop! is paired with an abridged version of The Magic Flute in the Vocal Arts Program 2016 opera double bill onMarch 4 & 6. I'm singing the aforementioned lion (picture) in Higglety Pigglety and Sarastro in The Magic Flute. Both works are masterpieces, one contemporary and one classical full of colorful music and characters brought to life by my fantastic colleagues at Bard under the direction of Nic Muni and conducted by James Bagwell. Join us if you can, click here for ticket information.

We've poured our lives into these productions for the past month, and it hard to believe that Rami and my performance of Winterreise was less than three weeks ago. Thank you to all of you who joined us that afternoon or sent encouragement. Again, Winterreise can be said to be so many things, but most of all it is a direct link to Schubert, and the multi-hued humanity he wrote into his songs. Rami and I look forward to continuing our journey with the work and have a few performances lined up in the coming months.We will be presenting the second half as part of a recital in Woodstock on March 12. Check out information here.

Perhaps one role of these posts is to declare intentions and hold myself to them, so I'll share a thought I hope to make time to follow through on. Spending so much time with Winterreise in this most strange of winters - today another apocalyptically beautiful mid-winter spring day - has stirred up thoughts of a speculative essay on Winterreise's place in the public imagination in a world of diminishing winters. Look for a link to a draft in a future note.

LOOKING AHEAD (and remembering)
Looking a little further ahead, I am preparing for performances of Dust in the Bottomland by Nate May at Virginia Tech and Winthrop Universities over the spring break on March 22nd & 24th respectively. My close friend and collaborator, Nate May wrote Dust in the Bottomland as a solo chamber opera for me to sing while I was still working as a community organizer in West Virginia. The protagonist grapples with the effects of prescription drug addiction, mountaintop removal mining, and the changing fabric of rural Appalachian communities. Relearning the piece has been rich with memories, or the work itself and the place it came from. I'll dedicate a later post to share more about it. In the mean time, if you know appreciators of the arts, rural America, Appalachia, and good story telling, please pass on our facebook event.

Andrew MunnOperaComment
Preparing for The Classical Style: Questions of Relevance, April 2015

I’ve been working my way through the score for Steven Stucky and Jeremy Denk’s new opera, The Classical Style, preparing the role Beethoven for this summer in Aspen. Using a blend of music-theory nerd comedy and playful imagination of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven’s afterlives, the work speaks to the timely conversation of classical music’s relevance to contemporary life, and the timeless conversation of what constitutes great art and the mutations of taste over time.

Seeking the late musicologist Charles Rosen, author of the book The Classical Style that inspired the opera, Beethoven states “It’s no longer enough to be great. We need to be relevant.” The question of relevance is one I’ve batted around since rededicating myself to music in 2013. What is the relevance of the classical cannon for contemporary life? This in turn, begs the question, what is relevance? Is it a useful measuring stick for art?

I hear relevance, and I think of critical engagement with the forces shaping our world – economic polarization, ecological devastation, the inherited legacies and present realities of racism, colonialism, capitalism, and patriarchy. I imagine a production of Le Nozze di Figaro that presents the revolutionary power of love to subvert the class distinctions between Count Almaviva, Figaro, and Susanna in contemporary terms of the 1%, working poor, and undocumented immigrants. I ask how works, old and new, deepen our individual and collective self-understanding and enable us to make sense of and ethically navigate our relationships with one another and the Earth. Indeed, this is a form of relevance, but to define relevance as realized or potential political value in a work draws a partition between relevance and aesthetic experience.

I began drafting these thoughts in rehearsal for Haydn’s The Creation – Frank Corliss playing the piano reduction as Helen Zhibing Huang sings "Nun beut die Flur das frische Grün" on the lip the stage. The syncopation of her melismatic passages pulsating through the warm harmonies creates an incredibly potent pleasure – hearing, experiencing the pleasure that well-crafted music induces circumvents the intellectual, perhaps ideological, partition I’d built. Beauty is a form of relevance. Or, perhaps better said – beauty can create relevance. The relevance that emerges from beauty outlives the practical relevance of art.

Perhaps relevance is a flimsy term and a cloudy lens through which to experience art. It is hazardous to aim for relevance as an artist – in its truest form it emerges in the relationship between the individual, community, or culture and the work, often retrospectively. Thoughts?