Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company, performing at Temple University, presented an innovative festival of electroacoustic premieres to a packed audience on July 29, 2018. The Festival, which opened on July 26, btought to Pressler Hall at Temple University, a program including, Radiance (Jon Paul Maysee), The Sun Gate (Carlos Johns-Dávila) and Pacamambo (Zack Settel). Each of these three works utilized technology in a distinct way. Besides showcasing computer orchestration, amplification and visual projections, these pieces also complemented each other in their inspiration and narratives. (Check Deslumbrar for interviews with the composers last week)
Radiance, which featured bassoonist Dominic Panunto, is based on Christian scripture passages: (Genesis 1:2), (1 Kings 17), (Luke 9:28-36), (Revelation 21:19) and (Exodus 34:35). Lighting effects were generated by the bassoon which were filtered through a computer program. Most of this composition consisted of long sustained notes played by the bassoonist, with corresponding flashes of colored lights in discs and a large space on the ceiling above the musician. For both Radiance and The Sun Gate, performed in the orchestra practice room, the audience was invited to sit on three sides, either on chairs or on the floor. In Radiance, the sole instrumentalist and the visual projection were the center of attention.
In contrast, the audience seemed to become part of the performance of The Sun Gate. There was a lot going on and so much to watch in this piece. The mirrors, projections, and 360 degree camera, bounced images on the walls AND on the people sitting on the floor or in chairs, who surrounded the “stage” where the dancers and musicians performed. Two flexible and engaging dancers, Morgaine A. De Leonardis and Elisa Hernandez, starred as the Incan gods Viracocha and Inti. In addition to the movements they did on the floor, I also found myself watching their shadows on the wall, which intersected with the geometric patterns that were projected. This created another depiction or layer of the story, which had been carefully researched and based on Incan mythology. I interviewed Carlos beforehand, so I was excited to hear and see him play the Quenacho flute that he had purchased in Perú. The flute provided a sense of authenticity to the piece, and I would have liked to have heard more of it. The melody played on the piano near the end recalled Andean tonality and reminded me somewhat of indigenous music I’d heard played on panflutes in the past. This mix of the European and indigenous is key to Carlos’ approach and inspiration. The world created in sound and image (human and geometric) was definitely creative and otherworldly and something I would like to experience again now that I know what to expect. I felt teased by the actual live music included in The Sun Gate and wanted to hear more. The colorful moving geometric patterns, the live dancing and the careful positioning of real roses on the floor were entrancing. Vishaal Ravikumar (Lighting/Projections Designer) and Sarah Celona (Set Designer) are to be commended for their work on this multifaceted production. Here is a clip from its New York premiere:
Pacamambo rounded out the trio with another spiritual narrative, this one about death and the afterlife. This comtemporary opera focuses on a young girl Julie (Carly Baron) and how she handles the death of her beloved Grandma “Marie-Marie” (Gillian Booth). Other parts were sung by Max Avery Vitagliano (The Psychiatrist), Andrew Shaw (Le Chien) and Julia Bokunewicz, (La Lune). Isaac Dae Young was the Music Director/Conductor, Carolyn McDemus (Assistant Music Director), and Jon Paul Mayse handled the electronics. Pacamambo utilized computer technology in a more subtle way than the other pieces. It consisted of additional instrumental parts and harmonies. These were programmed by the composer and passed on to the Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company to use in their performance. Since I also sing opera, I try to avoid reviewing operas and singers (conflict of interest) but I must say that the conductor and cast were astounding in their commitment to render this score and their performances were exquisite. Pacamambo was sung in French and they never missed a beat. It was obvious to any musician in the audience, that this was a challenging score but the cast and conductor handled it with aplomb. The subject as well was quite a departure from traditional Western European grand opera and I was impressed that these young singers held their own in a genre that they probably have not had much experience in (since it is not mainstream) or regularly performed in opera companies or conservatories. The chamber environment suits it well and the audience recognized the dedication and skill of the cast and production crew with a standing ovation.
In my opinion, the score should be revised a bit, cut and pared down, swapping some of the “rap” for a more lyrical accompanied recitative. The “rap” idea was fun at first, since it was different, but the composer definitely could write some harmonies and melodies, and did that well in Act 9. The constant raps tended to slow down the action. The story itself is compelling and although it is a short opera, of only 1 hour, the lack of dramatic tension and release in the music, as well as dynamic and tempi changes, made it drag in some places. That was not the fault of the singers or the conductor. A revision of course, is a task for the composer, not the singers or conductor, to consider.
All in all, Live/Wire Ensemble and Opera Company is to be congratulated for taking a risk and staging three relatively new electroacoustic works to an enthusiastic Philadelphia audience. I welcome your comments and discussions about these performances! Please write something if you were there at one of the performances and want to contribute your thoughts.