Oceanic Verses

While I promise everyone to post “Hear People Listen, Part 2” I want to insert an “intermission” entry focusing on music – opera music.

Every year, New York City Opera holds their annual opera festival, VOX: Contemporary American Opera Lab. I learned about this festival last spring, when I interned in corporate sponsorship and institutional giving. When I first heard about this festival, I thought it was a contest of sorts, like the Tribeca Film Festival where several films were showcased to the public and then in the end, a few directors received rewards for their work.

VOX is nothing like the nationally known film festival. Instead, New York City Opera’s VOX committee accepts new fully composed operas from up and coming librettists (opera composers). They carefully select 10 for the showcase. The artistic director, Cori Lipiello, and the composers pin-point a specific section of their opera and narrow it down to a 40 minute musical performance.

Last year, on a Friday and Saturday (April 30 – May 1), the 10 librettists showcased their vignettes to the public at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts. Some of the librettists participating in the program included: Michael Gordon from Bang on a Can; the acclaimed contemporary librettist, Scott Davenport Richards; Julian Wachner, composer at McGill University’s school of music; John S. Guggenheim Foundation grant recipient and composer, Anthony Davis; Chinese composer, Dun Yu; and Paola Prestini who was just on NPR’s “The Mix: 100 Composers Under 40.”

The opera vignette I enjoyed the most belongs to Paola Prestini, Oceanic Verses.

The story of this opera begins in Sardinia, atop of cliff where an elder queen reflects on her life, her people and country. In the meantime, her country prepares for a battle with another. The story then travels to a village within the queen’s country, where a young couple is being married. When exchanging their wedding vows, the young man promises to return home to his wife and the young lady talks about how she wishes her husband would not have to go to war. The focus then moves to a mother and her child on a neighboring island. This woman’s husband has already left her and her child to join a battle and the mother sings to her baby of his return.

The plot in Oceanic Verses is not very dynamic, but the strong focal point of this opera is the collective story of all these different characters. Prestini will tell you herself that she chose the ocean as an archetype to connect these characters. She will also tell you about the different musical influences for each character’s aria. Listen to her promotional video for VOX 2010. New York City Opera| Oceanic Verses.

The results of Paola’s inspirations for the Queen’s aria sounds and looks like this,

Oceanic Verses received a standing ovation from the entire house. Paola’s opera was mesmerizing, romantic and tragic – terrific ingredients for any opera, even a contemporary one. I hope Oceanic Verses’ positive reception encouraged Paola to return to VOX 2011.

I will keep you posted on Prestini’s VOX 2011 work, De Deo, as soon as I can. In the meantime, listen to more of her music from Oceanic verses here. (Scroll down at the bottom of WQXR’s webpage and click “listen”).


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