“Startling,” “gripping” THE ECHO DRIFT finishes “virtuoso” run at Prototype Festival

January 26, 2018

On January 20, the world premiere of THE ECHO DRIFT, with music by Mikael Karlsson, libretto by Elle Kunnos de Voss & Kathryn Walat, directed by Mallory Catlett and conducted by Nicholas DeMaison completed its six-performance run at Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City as part of the 2018 Prototype Festival. Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert starred as a convicted murderer trapped in a timeless prison and is unexpectedly befriended by a moth (actor John Kelly) with an offer of a perceived way to freedom. The experimental chamber opera, performed by members of ICE Ensemble and enhanced by electronic soundscape and animation, was enthusiastically received by both audiences and critics alike.

Blythe Gaissert as Walker Loats in The Echo Drift

“a startling science fiction conceit kickstarted the gripping one-act The Echo Drift. In this world premiere work, an inmate in a futuristic prison gets a visit from a talking moth that tries to persuade her than she can escape by rejecting her conventional sense of time and space. Everything about this presentation was virtuoso, from the psychedelic snarls and slithers in composer Mikael Karlsson’s orchestra writing to the sly, ironic whispers of actor John Kelly as the Moth. But the heart of the piece was the bravura singing of Blythe Gaissert as the panicky prisoner, her smoky mezzo biting into the wide-ranging and relentless vocal part with the violent abandon of a starving shark.” – The Observer

Stark and intricate, propulsive and a little film-noir, “The Echo Drift” is most exciting when it is fast and cacophonous, nearly overwhelming the senses.” – The New York Times

a totally original and stunning, immersive piece… with a scintillating score composed by Mikael Karlsson, and a brilliant environmental production by Elle Kunnos de Voss in their first collaboration. … Gaissert is wonderful as Loats, giving herself over totally to the fantasy world that the creators have presented to her, more than holding her own vocally in the powerful and audacious orchestral setting–by turns jazzy, acoustic, electronic, melodic, atonal, soothing, blasting–that the composer has devised.” – Broadway World

“seventy immersive minutes of six-channel surround sound and projected animations … The score was modest, absorbing, and lush …  For a story about a convicted murderer in solitary confinement, The Echo Drift is surprisingly accessible and apolitical. … Gaissert and Kelly fully embraced the sophisticated score and meta set, and The Echo Drift balanced an immersive multidimensional experience with a refreshing affirmation of human solidarity.” – I Care If You Listen

“Nicholas DeMaison conducted with unwavering clarity, helped by seven superb musicians from the International Contemporary Ensemble. Levy Lorenzo’s electronics wizardry—effectively an eighth instrument—creates unusually vivid textures, such as the complex, machine-like chords repeated near the end, tolling like otherworldly bells. … It is hard to sufficiently praise soprano Blythe Gaissert as Loats, singing tirelessly over the course of the opera’s 70 minutes.” – Musical America

“The Echo Drift struck an admirable balance between evocative score and creative composition, and is easily worthy of a pure listen without the staging. Karlsson’s subtle but crucial electronic elements were particularly noteworthy, threading through the live performers with magnetic textures… singers and musicians alike made this small chamber opera a grand production.” – Seen and Heard International

In a tension-filled final day, Gaissert took ill and made the difficult decision not to perform. Her cover Kathryn Krasovec stepped in with only a few hours of rehearsal under her belt and gave a powerful performance that captivated the audience on the opera’s final night.

The Echo Drift was commissioned, developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects, HERE, and American Opera Projects. The Echo Drift was originally developed by Mikael Karlsson and Elle Kunnos de Voss in a full-length workshop presented by the Embassy of Sweden in Washington DC in 2014. Additional development was provided through the Opera Genesis Fellowship, a residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, made in partnership with American Opera Projects.

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AOP Awarded OPERA America grant to develop mobile app

May 7, 2013

AOP’S “HAVE A VOICE” APP TO ENGAGE PERFORMING ARTS AUDIENCES THROUGH TECHNOLOGY PLATFORM

Brooklyn, NY— AOP (American Opera Projects) is awarded a grant of $12,600 in the first year of OPERA America’s Building Opera Audiences grant program generously funded by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation. This new grant program supports the efforts of North American opera companies to build informed, enthusiastic audiences for opera through innovative marketing projects. AOP is one of 13 organizations in the U.S. and Canada to receive funding totaling $300,000. A record-setting 67 applications totaling nearly $2 million in requests were received by OPERA America, demonstrating how vital audience development programs are to opera organizations today.

apps imageThe award will support AOP in the creation of a mobile application, currently entitled “Have a Voice,” to engage and expand opera audiences. By utilizing technology to foster feedback and discourse, the new platform aims to attract a technologically savvy audience while providing useful feedback to creative artists. “Have A Voice,” will be created as a cross-platform application that will allow an audience to share feedback at an event while simultaneously sharing content on the producer’s website and popular social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. An achievement rewards program will encourage users to remain active in the system in order to achieve virtual and/or physical rewards and prizes (for example: virtual badges, merchant discounts, tickets to participating partner events, etc.).

AOP will partner with other performing arts organizations during the initial year of the application (BETA phase) to provide input and test its effectiveness in anticipation of a public launch in 2014. Current organizations participating are Mark Morris Dance Group, Theatre For a New Audience, Irondale Ensemble Project, and The Brick (Brooklyn, NY), HERE Arts Center (New York, NY), Opera On Tap (based in New York, NY with 12 national chapters), Opera Memphis (Memphis, TN), and UrbanArias (Arlington, VA). AOP’s goal is to share the “Have a Voice” brand with a wide range of performing arts companies so as to encourage the participation, attendance, and rewards amongst an ever-increasing network, while specifically enhancing awareness of the creative profile of opera.

As the national nonprofit service organization, OPERA America leads and serves the entire opera community, supporting the creation, presentation and enjoyment of opera. “As entertainment options continue to grow, opera companies face increased competition for audiences,” stated Marc A. Scorca, president/CEO of OPERA America. “The Building Opera Audiences grant program provides funding to experiment with innovative projects that help engage new and retain current audiences, ensuring that opera and opera companies continue to flourish.”

Each funded project will be documented and evaluated throughout its lifespan. The results will be shared with the opera field, so that other organizations can learn from and replicate projects in their communities.

The idea for the app came from AOP Producing Director Matt Gray with the goal to better gather audience feedback that is at the core of AOP’s mission to develop and produce new works. “Our audiences are wonderfully unique. They love witnessing every step of the creative process. But getting them to comfortably express their thoughts about what they had experienced was a challenge. Comment cards, online polls, blog posts, Q&A sessions with the creators – each has its advantages and disadvantages. Putting the ability to respond in the format of their choice – written, video, audio, multiple choice – at the event itself while an audience’s ideas are still fresh, we had always known was going to be the key. Only now has the technology caught up to make that happen. It was OPERA America’s desire to attract new audiences that made us think beyond just using the app as a private tool for ourselves and share it with a network of performing arts companies, and ultimately our various audiences.”

The complete list of organizations receiving Building Opera Audiences grants is: American Opera Projects (Brooklyn, NY), Arizona Opera (Phoenix, AZ), Florentine Opera Company (Milwaukee, WI), Los Angeles Opera, Madison Opera, Opera on the James (Lynchburg, VA), Opera Memphis, Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, San Francisco Opera, Sarasota Opera, Seattle Opera, Syracuse Opera and Vancouver Opera.

The Building Opera Audiences grant program is made possible through the generosity of the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.


Composer Stefan Weisman Marks His Time from C&V to His Third Opera

September 7, 2012

Stefan WeismanStefan Weisman, guest blogger
Composers & the Voice Composer Fellow, 2003-04

I remember hearing about AOP for the first time from my good friend, the talented composer Dan Sonenberg. He had just finished AOP’s inaugural session of the Composers & the Voice program. He told me that he had written six different songs, each of which was workshopped by a different singer, and, as a culmination of the program, he composed a short opera scene that was rehearsed and performed. I must admit that I was immediately envious. At that time I had written very little vocal music, but loved doing so whenever I did. However, I always felt that writing for the voice was a special challenge and in a way it was a mystery that required real experience to do well. I had to apply to AOP’s Composers & the Voice program, and I was thrilled to be accepted.

I remember working week after week, churning out new songs to be performed in the closed sessions of Composers & the Voice, during which I’d get feedback from the singers as well as from the accompanist, and from the other composers, and also, of course, from Steve Osgood, AOP’s artistic director at the time, and the creator of Composers & the Voice.

One song, “Twinkie,” was set to the ingredients of the iconic snack food of the same name. I would never have guessed at the time, that this would become my most performed piece. It was even recently performed on the nationally syndicated program The Wendy Williams Show, sung by one of my favorite collaborators, Hai-Ting Chinn. During the program, Wendy Williams said, “Very unique . . . You’re not going to hear opera like this anywhere else… Fabulous!”


The ingredients to a delicious aria…

Strangely, it was also because of this song, “Twinkie,” that Charles Jarden decided I might be the right composer to approach with the prospect of working on a new opera called Darkling with a libretto by poet Anna Rabinowitz. Her poetry is complex, and intentionally thorny at times, but always very beautiful. Apparently, Charles had decided that if I could make the complicated ingredients of a Twinkie work as a song, then I would have no problem working with the complexity of Anna’s poetry.

Darkling was a difficult and serious piece, and I was not sure I could successfully find music to match these words and ideas. When I first met Anna, I was certain I would have many questions about her poetry as I began the compositional process, and I told her I expected that I would need to consult with her frequently. Amazingly, I never needed to do so. As soon as my work began, something remarkable happened . . . my initial feelings of doubt and apprehension were swept away. I discovered that underneath the poem’s complex layers was a deep emotionality into which I was able to tap, and in this way the poetry came into vivid focus for me. Ultimately, my goal was to use music to instantly make those underlying emotions clear and direct, so that audiences would be able to connect to and appreciate the heartrending story and ideas I found in Darkling’s poetry.


“There’s Been a Slippage” from Darkling

I’m so grateful to AOP for commissioning me to write the music for Darkling. I am very proud of this piece, and I’ve been excited to witness its successes. It was included in the Guggenheim Museum’s Works & Process series, and premiered to great acclaim at the East 13th Street Theater. It was presented at the German Consulate as part of the Friends of Freie Universität’s Jewish Documentary Film, Theater, and Speaker Series. A touring version of Darkling previewed at New York City Opera’s VOX “On the Edge” Showcase and was then presented in Germany and Poland in 2007 and in Philadelphia in 2009. Most exciting for me is that Darkling was released by Albany Records in November 2011 in a stunning recording produced by Judith Sherman.

The cast of Darkling's European tour

The cast and creators of Darkling’s European tour

In a way, I also have AOP to thank for my second opera, Fade, with a libretto by David Cote. Fade was commissioned by the exciting British opera company, Second Movement, but before its premiere in London, AOP set up a libretto reading. David and I were convinced that the libretto was already finished. However, after we heard the libretto read by actors (overseen by director Ned Canty) and got feedback from a small handpicked audience, we discovered that we had more work to do.

Fade london

Second Movement’s premiere of “Fade”

Fade premiered in London in October 2008 on a triple bill with Leonard Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti and Samuel Barber’s A Hand of Bridge. In addition to its London premiere, Fade has also had productions in Philadelphia, San Francisco, and New York City.

I am working with librettist David Cote once again. We are developing The Scarlet Ibis, an evening-length chamber opera that will be designed to appeal to younger audiences as well as sophisticated operagoers. The Scarlet Ibis is a lyrical tale of family, survival, and tolerance, based on a 1960 short story by James Hurst.

Counter-tenor Eric Brenner (Doodle) and mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn (Brother) in “The Scarlet Ibis” workshop ate HERE’s CultureMart 2012

We are calling The Scarlet Ibis a “family opera,” but although it will appeal to young viewers, we will not talk down to our audience. The Scarlet Ibis will be a hybrid opera, and we plan to work puppetry into its staging. The opera is being developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE, but once again American Opera Projects had come on board to assist in the creation of my newest piece.

I am thrilled to have AOP with me as I continue my operatic journey. From Composers and the Voice, to Darkling, to Fade and now The Scarlet Ibis, AOP has been right there all along. I am so grateful for their championing new American opera, and I hope to continue my relationship with them for a long time to come.

Stefan Weisman
September 2012

The latest group of Composers & the Voice fellows will premiere new work on Sep. 7 & 9, 2012 at Six Scenes in Brooklyn, NY.
www.operaprojects.org/events/6scenes2012

Scenes from The Scarlet Ibis will be presented to the public at HERE’s CultureMart 2013 in Jan.-Feb. 2013.

Darkling CDThe CD studio recording of Darkling is available for purchase at Albany Records, Amazon, iTunes, and many other retail locations.


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