BREAKING - By popular demand, a new show of Paola Prestini's workshop, The Aging Magician has been added for January 16th at 8:30pm. It's filling up fast - get tickets here!
We're thrilled to be producing the World Premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s chamber opera Sumeida’s Song in PROTOTYPE. This young composer has had an amazing year as he has unveiled multiple works --instrumental and vocal, chamber and full orchestra-- garnering praise from around the world as one of the most in-demand composers of his generation. Both sweeping in philosophical and political scope and microcosmic in familial landscape, Sumeida's Song elegantly and poignantly lays bare the clash of old traditions and new ways in our modern times. We couldn't be more proud to be premiering Mohammed's first opera in our inaugural festival.
Three days into our process on SUMEIDA’S SONG and I cannot believe how much we have accomplished. One thing I like doing is a challenge for performers: ask them what they want to do. As I said on day one, ‘I know what I know. I’m not interested in what I know. I am interested in what I don’t know.’ But this group of people makes it easy. Mimi and Rachel and Dan and Edwin are full of ideas and questions, thoughts and impulses for me to work with. What a luxury for a director.
The sixth day of our process is the day of Egypt’s constitutional referendum. It is too simplifying to equate “Sumeida’s Song” and present day struggles within Egypt. And yet. Of course the opera has a startling resonance today, as demonstrations sweep Tahrir Square and beyond; the complex weave of Egyptian culture today connects directly to Tawfiq al Hakeem’s great play.
They create images, atmospheres and theatrical scenes, primarily using projections to tell a story. Their approach is to visualize virtual, multilayered and mysterious spaces that change constantly. During their time as students at ArtEZ in Zwolle, Douwe Dijkstra, Coen Huisman and Jules van Hulst, the three members of the artist Collectief 33-1/3, participated in a range of projects, including The Falls, an experimental opera, based on one of Peter Greenaway’s earliest works, in which Greenaway himself was closely involved.
Deconstructing process. It's something I've been thinking about a lot, in my work through my company VisionIntoArt, and, as I think about my own foray into interdisciplinary work. It was not a straight road, to be clear, but there were moments of clarity, and that clarity tended to happen after an inspiring encounter, and usually, my saying, how can I emulate this aspect of this artist's life, or, one day, I want to work with this person...
To this day, I love listening to artists talk about their process, their inspirations, and the art of putting their hybrid work together. I still remember stories told to me by choreographer Liz Lerman, and the first time I saw Rinde Eckert perform in And God Created Great Whales..I was in my early twenties: two transforming experiences….
FAIROUZ OPERA PREMIERE WILL OPEN THE PROTOTYPE FESTIVAL
By Allan Kozinn
The world premiere of Mohammed Fairouz’s “Sumeida’s Song,” an opera based on the Egyptian playwright Tawfiq El-Hakim’s “Song of Death,” will be directed by David Herskovits, and conducted by Steven Osgood, with a cast that includes Rachel Calloway, Dan Kempson, Edwin Vega and Amelia Watkins. The show is to open the first Protoype: Opera/Theater/Now festival, which runs Jan. 9 to Jan. 18 in New York.
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We asked Christopher Burchett to journal for us his sick training schedule in preparation for his upcoming PROTOTYPE Festival role in David T. Little's "Soldier Songs." The process is impressive, results are not too shabby either (see photos below)....
Journal of an Opera Soldier
I’ve included my last two weeks of workouts as a sample of what I’ve been doing. You will see that I’m not always consistent with what I do. This is due in part to the fact that we were in tech week last week and I’m not able to always get to the gym to workout. Prior to these last two weeks I had been more consistent in getting to the gym. Since I’ve been in Norfolk rehearsing Die Fledermous, I have been going to a gym here.
I am a HUGE fan of the Battlestar Galactica series and the whole sci-fi universe. It hasn't influenced our visual style so much, but I find myself fully enveloped in the glam aspect of it during the performance: the stars, galaxies, infinite dark spaces. Personally, I am constantly fascinated by the poetic sensibilities of those unknown horizons to be discovered and unravelled.
The galactic theme of our show is a theme of questioning the unknown while discovering it, with all the sparkles, costumes, LED-lights, wild songs, and intense, rocket-fuel energy we can muster!
Music is a weapon of war. Rhythm organizes a soldier’s training; song defines an army’s morale and camaraderie; Metallica can prepare a soldier for battle. After the war, commemoration never happens without a band. Music is easily co-opted and made to serve a political or ideological message. But music is just as easily a vehicle for reflection, engagement, and emotional connection, and this is certainly what is achieved in Soldier Songs.
I’ve worked closely with David on the realization of this piece's final form, first in workshop format with New York City Opera as part of its VOX Showcase for new opera, then in its first fully realized staging. In conceptualizing the work’s theatrical life, David’s work made me recall Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Storyteller:”
Was it not noticeable at the end of [World War I] that men returned from the battlefield grown silent—not richer, but poorer in communicable experience? … A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body.
David’s piece depicts that solitude of a soldier’s experience: one isolated baritone stands alone in this piece and reflects a single vulnerability that speaks for generations. But more powerfully, Soldier Songs deals with the crisis of communicable experience: the soldiers who return from war unable to bear witness to their chaotic memories. The libretto of Soldier Songs comes directly from interviews David did with family and friends who served in various combats throughout the last fifty years, soldiers with the courage to tell their story. Connecting their various experiences, from childhood fascination with war to the nightmares that haunt the return to civilization, David writes an insistent closed-mouth hum: as if the soldier were a ticking time-bomb, the stories of his experience buried just under the surface and yearning, but unable, to emerge.
Poetry is the ultimate form of expression in Arabic literature. In the 1950s, when Tawfiq El-Hakim wrote his early masterpiece, Song of Death, plays in Arabic were uncommon to say the least and the play as an artform was still being pioneered by El-Hakim and some others on the literary scene. It’s a hard picture to conjure up as, since then, Song of Death has become one of the most popular and enduring stories in the Arab world. I first read the play as a kid and filed it in the inner circuits of my mind. Then, as a teenager, I rediscovered it.
By the time I was 18, I had written several song cycles and many art songs that were already becoming popular with singers. I had an inner yearning to write an opera but was waiting for the right moment and then I was startled by the classical straight-forwardness of El-Hakim’s tightly knit narrative. Song of Death contains a powerful, timeless story that also seems like it could’ve been written yesterday and it’s all expressed with the economy of a master craftsman. I then understood the reason for its popularity in the Arab countries and I knew that it would become my first opera, Sumeida’s Song.
The 1950’s were also the stage for the last series of dramatic revolutions that, generating in Cairo, swept through the Arab world. Fermenting political unrest and upheaval fuelled an intensely active (and largely followed) literary scene. It was in this context that Tawfiq El-Hakim created Song of Death, a play that is, after all, about effecting social and political change.