Fresno Grand Opera mixes it up again Friday with another installment of its “Opera Remix” series. This one is titled “Music & Verse.” For Friday’s 7 section I check in with opera general director Matthew Buckman about the concert, which combines guest singers performing selections from the chamber opera “Hydrogen Jukebox,” by Philip Glass and Allen Ginsberg, alternating with original works recited by Fresno-area poets.
Guest artists: E. Scott Levin, bass-baritone; Liisa Davila, soprano; Danielle Bond, mezzo soprano; Hadleigh Adams, baritone; Molly Mahoney, soprano; and Jonathan Smucker, tenor.
The poets: Performing are Jennifer De La Cruz (pictured), Michael Dominquez, Taylor Harris, Aideed Medina, S. Bryan Medina, Michael Medrano, James Tyner and Andre Yang.
Here’s an extended version of the interview:
Question: What is the format of the event?
We are performing approximately 40 minutes of “Hydrogen Jukebox” (it’s about 90 minutes in its entirety). We’ve selected the most musically accessible 40 minutes of the piece to introduce the audience to Glass’ music. The format will alternate between music and poetry. Though the work is classified as a chamber opera, I think it more closely resembles a song cycle, and we’re performing it in this manner (so there will be no staging or costumes). I consider it more of a song cycle because while there is a general theme to Ginsberg’s texts, there is no story line presented in the work. Our performance of selected songs from “Hydrogen Jukebox” will be concert style.
Is there any theme/subject for the poetry?
There is no pre-determined theme for the poetry, but the poets have done a great job of selecting original works of theirs for performance that tie into the text (by Ginsberg) of the music surrounding their performance slot on the program.
Do you think poetry is a harder sell than classic rock songs?
Generally speaking, yes. However, this performance is just the beginning of what we hope will be a long term relationship between the opera and the poetry community. Through our work together, we are hoping to re-engage local artists in the creative process of developing new repertoire for our company, and build a more local and deep connection with opera as an art form. So this performance really is geared toward engaging the poetry community, but we hope the music community will come along for what will be an interesting and engaging night of music as well.
Anything else I should know?
The poets performing in this event will be paired by composers from Fresno State’s music department, and will work together from February through May to write new vocal music set to texts by the poets. The poets and composers will take part in workshops with prominent professional composers from the opera world, and the music will be written under the guidance of Dr. Kenneth Froelich at Fresno State. Dr. Anthony Radford’s vocal studio will be workshopping the music, so they will have the opportunity to participate in the creative process as well. All of the music created through this program will then be performed in October 2016 by FGO, in a similar event that features performances of original works by the same poets.
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