When they think about opera, many folks envision Bugs Bunny wearing a Viking hat singing loudly to Wagner or remember sitting bored in a concert hall as a robust soprano belts out some serious Italian. For many reasons, opera has gotten a pretty bad rap in the last few decades. After all, how can hours of Wagner’s Ring Cycle compare to flashy three-minute music videos starring the “Bieb” in today’s high adrenaline multitasking multimedia mayhem?
But opera in the 21st century is not your great-grandma’s opera. Before film became the audiovisual entertainment of choice, opera was the cutting edge artistic voice of change political, musical, and even fashionable. Opera today embraces the spirit of traditional opera but adds in technology, jazz, pop music, and even sci-fi to make opera relevant to the third millennium listener.
Case in point: Libertaria, The Virtual Opera
Before we go any further, I have to admit to a bit of opera bias!
For the last year and a half I have been working on the sci-fi animated opera Libertaria: The Virtual Opera. The inspiration for Libertaria came both from a desire to create a feature film and a desire to write a modern opera that would reach out to the next generation of concertgoers across social media and the Internet. Libertaria: The Virtual Opera mixes video-game inspired animation (called machinima) with crazy electronic music and an opera plot that includes evil reverse-aging geneticists, a spunky teen heroine, a villain strung up on a Soylent Green-inspired serum called Metal Ink, and a futuristic post-USA dystopia.
Keeping true to the crowdsourcing open-source nature of the project, Libertaria: The Virtual Opera has an international cast communicating solely through the Internet, a talented visual arts team found through Wreckamovie.com and the Moviestorm forums, and a worldwide 2013 Virtual Opera Launch Party for any opera fan that wants to screen Libertaria in their hometown.
The official premier for Libertaria: The Virtual Opera will take place in Lakeworth, Florida and online in October 2013.
Electronic Opera “Death and the Robots”
If computerized electronic insanity and innovative gadgetry is your thing, you need to check out Composer Tod Machover’s cutting edge robotic opera Death and the Powers. Developed at the MIT Media Lab, Death and the Powers was a finalist for the Pulitzer and packs in serious opera, mesmerizing visual effects, and a score that meshes the latest electronica with the compelling story of a powerful inventor facing his own mortality.
21st Century Tao
Award-winning composer, organist, and visual artist Kyong Mee Choi combines her musical expertise and visual genius with stunning abstract imagery and flowing dance in the multimedia event called The Eternal Tao. Hailed by critics as both conceptual and beautiful, The Eternal Tao libretto propels the text of Lao Tzu into the 21st century in a celebration of electronica and art. PARMA will publish the Eternal Tao DVD later this fall.
Contemporary opera mixes and mashes a broad, diverse musical diaspora in its multifaceted tones. Ask Your Mama is an example of this, combining opera with a diverse range of musical styles. The libretto is set to the Langston Hughes text of the same name. Multimedia was incorporated into the opera’s premier performance.
When Hughes wrote Ask Your Mama: 12 Moods for Jazz, he included precise musical instructions meant to accompany his poetry. These cues covered an interesting array of musical styles from blues to Afro-Cuban to Dixieland to leitmotifs. Emmy-award winning composer Laura Karpman used these as a guide in her eclectic score. Ask Your Mama premiered at Carnegie Hall in 2009.
Where to start?
Hopefully the examples above have whet your appetite for modern opera, and you’re asking “Where can I find more opera?”
Modern opera seems buried by the glamor of today’s pop-culture-frenzied society, but you can find opera in almost any region.
Check out your local community theaters and universities. Jump on Google and check out upcoming opera events in your area. Sites like Bachtrack help you find operas and ballets with the click of a button. Local churches, synagogues, and community centers host small-scale opera productions.
Here are a few more links to explore contemporary operas:
- Pearl (2012) Composed by Amy Scurria, Libretto by Carol Gilligan
- L’Armour de loin (2000) Composed by Kaija Saariaho, Libretto by Amin Maalouf
- She Lost Her Voice That’s How We Knew (c. 2004) Composed by Frances White, Libretto by Valeria Vasilevski
- Swede Hollow (2012) Score and Libretto by Ann Millikan
- Bliss (2010) Composed by Brett Dean, Libretto by Amanda Holden
So maybe next time you have a choice between watching the latest predictable movie blockbuster or experiencing a live opera, you’ll choose the cutting edge drama that is modern opera.
What do you love about opera? Share your favorite opera stories and links in the comments below.
Feeling totally inspired? Learn how to write your own opera over at Sabrina’s blog!