Middlebury

Lotus Lives: an opera in one act for mezzo-soprano, soprano, brass quintet, and percussion

Overview

Lily is a young Chinese opera singer, performing in America, and coming off stage into her dressing room as her latest performance ends.  As she begins removing her costume, she begins the shadowy transition from performer to lay-person, from Chinese to American, from artist to woman.  Layers of history recent and distant begin to reveal themselves.  She relives her brush with the pop music industry, the pulsating club scene it backdrop, temptation and trouble its effect.  Those troubles are the thread to her grandmother, path-breaking Chinese suffragette, and childhood friend and confidante to Madame Chiang Kai-shek.  The lofty Madame Chiang Kai-shek is by turns quietly powerful and in denial.  Her grandmother dreams of emancipation and of a future for women yet to come---and that will come---one constantly denied by her friend.  Those dreams become rerouted by the opera singer’s mother and sister, whose lives are bound as in a Chinese folktale.  Her sister loses herself in her own reflection and drowns, plucked away by the Guanyin, goddess of the moon, who whisks her away in a ballet involving dancer and wayang kulit, Southeast Asian shadow-puppet theater.  The mother and daughter reunite once in old age, but they cannot be reconciled and are never released from their bond of death.  As the opera singer reflects on those people who are her, she has slowly removed her costume, her make-up, her character, and her art, transforming into a recognizably modern woman.  Rejecting authority’s denial and death’s long reach, she embraces the never-realized dreams of her grandmother.  She enters into the night defiant, no longer a Chinese performer of and ancient Asian art, but a modern American woman of an eclectic, ecstatic culture, releasing history and embracing life. 

Lotus Lives is a highly innovative opera in its musical language and materials.  It is in one-act and lasts fifty minutes.  Scored for the highly unusual combination of soprano, brass quintet, percussion, and video, it can also be expanded to two sopranos, brass quintet, percussion, violin, piano, dancer, and shadow-puppet theater.  It will appeal to a broad range of audiences in its moderate length, compelling narrative, and fusion of musical languages that, like the protagonist, transforms over the course of the opera.  The piece was commissioned by the Meridian Arts Ensemble, whose progressive, eclectic programming and virtuoso playing have won several awards and established large followings among audiences worldwide.   

Music

          The bold and innovative music reflects the eclectic and clashing styles suggested by the libretto and also the diverse stylistic ranges that are hallmarks of MAE concerts.  The soprano’s vocal and acting requirements are equally challenging, spanning many different styles, and acting the roles of four different women. The music ranges from traditionally sung arias to tango, 1980’s dance synthesized dance music, hip-hop, Southeast Asian gamelan, and Chinese-inflected contemporary styles.  The soprano will be singing with brass and percussion instruments, and also digitally synthesized sounds and Chinese traditional instruments.  The ensemble members also become actors in one of the scenes.  The contrasting instrumentation, styles, and forms will propel the drama in an ironic reflection of the singer’s conclusive break, and form the expressive continuity of the work.

Set Design

         The staging of the opera is simple and creative.  The backdrop and imagery will appear through layers of projected video that will convey changes of time and place, as well as form their own continuity.  Filmed passages will comprise certain sections where stories interweave and overlap, as in the scene between the young grandmother and childhood friend who will become Madame Chiang Kai-shek, and the two same women in later years.  Video also will provide abstract contributions to the ballet and shadow-puppet theater that is part of the Chinese folktale 

Personnel

          Composer Su Lian Tan has been commissioned by groups as diverse as the Grammy-winning Takacs String Quartet to the Meridian Arts Ensemble, and collaborated with celebrated authors Jamaica Kincaid and John Elder.  Her works span the gamut of styles from works from concert music to Chinese hip-hop and Malaysian folk-song arrangements.  The Meridian Arts Ensemble (MAE) has toured extensively in Europe, Asia, Central America, and the US, and has released ten commercial CD recordings. Twice they have won the ASCAP/CMA Award for Adventuresome Programming. Specializing in contemporary music, they have premiered over fifty new works.  The previous collaboration by Ms. Tan and the MAE resulted in Moo Shu Wrap Rap, where brass instruments made sounds imitating Chinese speech, set within a context of a hip-hop beat.  It was received extremely enthusiastically by audiences of all kinds, from new music aficionados to general audiences to children.  The MAE recorded the piece and performed it over one hundred times all around the world. 

Mezzo-soprano Brenda Patterson has won numerous awards and is a rising star at the Metropolitan Opera Company.

Soprano Miriam Stewart-Gordon made her debut recently to great ovation, as the top Walkure at Bayreuth. American feminist poet and librettist

Anne Babson has won the Spoon River Editor’s Prize, Columbia Journal Prize, and Working People’s Poetry Prize, among many others. 

The video design is by award-winning filmmaker Tim Bartlett, whose documentary and visual work has recently been seen at the Sundance Film Festival, New York's Knitting Factory, South by Southwest, and MTV. 

Lotus Lives Details and History

"Lotus Lives" shadow puppets

Lotus Lives is a highly innovative opera in its musical language and materials.  It is in one-act and lasts fifty minutes.  Scored for the highly unusual combination of soprano, brass quintet, percussion, and video, it can also be expanded to two sopranos, brass quintet, percussion, violin, piano, dancer, and shadow-puppet theater.  It will appeal to a broad range of audiences in its moderate length, compelling narrative, and fusion of musical languages that, like the protagonist, transforms over the course of the opera.  The piece was commissioned by the Meridian Arts Ensemble, whose progressive, eclectic programming and virtuoso playing have won several awards and established large followings among audiences worldwide.  The opera’s smaller scoring was conceived with their touring in mind, and can easily be incorporated into their regular concert programming with minimal stage requirements. 

 

Music

          The bold and innovative music reflects the eclectic and clashing styles suggested by the libretto and also the diverse stylistic ranges that are hallmarks of MAE concerts.  The soprano’s vocal and acting requirements are equally challenging, spanning many different styles, and acting the roles of four different women. The music ranges from traditionally sung arias to tango, 1980’s dance synthesized dance music, hip-hop, Southeast Asian gamelan, and Chinese-inflected contemporary styles.  The soprano will be singing with brass and percussion instruments, and also digitally synthesized sounds and Chinese traditional instruments.  The ensemble members also become actors in one of the scenes.  The contrasting instrumentation, styles, and forms will propel the drama in an ironic reflection of the singer’s conclusive break, and form the expressive continuity of the work.

 

Scenography and Schedule

          The staging of the opera is simple and creative.  Most of the backdrop and imagery will appear through layers of video, some projected, some using three-dimensional imaging technology similar to holograms that will convey changes of time and place as well as form their own continuity.  Filmed passages will comprise certain sections where stories interweave and overlap, as in the scene between the young grandmother and childhood friend who will become Madame Chiang Kai-shek, and the two same women in later years.  Video also will contribute abstract contributions to the ballet and shadow-puppet theater that is part of the Chinese folktale.  The video is controlled by the quintet members for reduced performances.  Parts of the expanded version will be filmed (the tango for young violinist and pianist, the ballet, and shadow-puppet theater) so they may be included in the reduced version without the need for additional performers, and left out when the full version is presented. 

          Lotus Lives was being composed and developed through the fall of 2008.  A workshop performance in conjunction with the Contemporary Performance Program of the Manhattan School of Music was given, summer 2009.  The concert version of the work received its premiere performance on 3 May 2010 at the Manhattan School of Music. The world premier of the fully staged production is anticipated in September 2011 and will be performed by mezzo –soprano Brenda Patterson, soprano Miriam Gordon-Stewart and the Meridian Arts Ensemble, Evan Bennett, conducting.

Personnel

          Composer Su Lian Tan has been commissioned by groups as diverse as the Grammy-winning Takacs String Quartet to the Meridian Arts Ensemble, and collaborated with celebrated authors Jamaica Kincaid and John Elder.  Her works span the gamut of styles from works from concert music to Chinese hip-hop and Malaysian folk-song arrangements.  The Meridian Arts Ensemble (MAE) has toured extensively in Europe, Asia, Central America, and the US, and has released ten commercial CD recordings. Twice they have won the ASCAP/CMA Award for Adventuresome Programming. Specializing in contemporary music, they have premiered over fifty new works.  The previous collaboration by Ms. Tan and the MAE resulted in Moo Shu Wrap Rap, where brass instruments made sounds imitating Chinese speech, set within a context of a hip-hop beat.  It was received extremely enthusiastically by audiences of all kinds, from new music aficionados to general audiences to children.  The MAE recorded the piece and performed it over one hundred times all around the world.  Mezzo-soprano Brenda Patterson has won numerous awards and is a rising star at the Metropolitan Opera Company. Soprano Miriam Stewart-Gordon made her debut recently to great ovation, as the top Walkure at Bayreuth. American feminist poet and librettist Anne Babson has won the Spoon River Editor’s Prize, Columbia Journal Prize, and Working People’s Poetry Prize, among many others.  The video design is by award-winning videographer Tim Bartlett, who recently won a special jury prize at the 2009 Sundance festival for his documentary, A Tibetan Song.  PBS has expressed a desire to document the creation of this opera, through the entire process, from workshops to rehearsals to performance.

 

 

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Lotus Lives, a Chamber Opera

An Opera in One Act for Mezzo-soprano, Soprano, Brass Quintet, and Percussion
Friday, September 30, 2011, at 8:00 P.M.
Sunday, October 2, 2011, at 3:00 P.M.,
Mahaney Center for the Arts, Concert Hall, Middlebury College     PRESS RELEASE

Related Events

Thursday, September 29, 8 p.m., Chellis House
Pizza & Poetry: Reading from the White Trash Pantheon
Anne Babson, award-winning poet and librettist of Su Lian Tan’s chamber opera “Lotus Lives,” will be reading from her collection entitled “The White Trash Pantheon,” which sets the myths of ancient Greece in the American heartland.  Filled with vernacular twang and humor gleaned from hthe deep South, combined with the high-literary sensibilities of a clacissist, these works have been featured on radio broadcasts as well as in Iowa Review, Cider Press Review, Connecticut Review. as well as other journals.  Theyslap snooty smirks off the faces of any neo-classical predecessors in literature while breaking new ground in American feminist verse.

Friday, September 30, 12:15 p.m., Chellis House
"Cross-cultural Commonalities: Women Working Collaboratively to Create Art that Speaks to Multiple Identities"
Lunchtime talk by Anne Babson (University of Mississippi)
“Lotus Lives” tells the story of the artificiality demanded of Chinese-American women—and perhaps of all women. Their upbringing and the traditional education of girls alienate them from their true selves.  “Lotus Lives” offers hope to those who would overcome stereotypes.
Sponsored by the Women's & Gender Studies Program-Chellis House, Women's Resource Center

"From Idea to Art"
Tim Bartlett ‘98, video set design, and Su Lian Tan, composer, will give an informal talk on creating and composing Lotus Lives. From the initial inspiration to the rendering of ideas in musical and visual form, they will elucidate the process, including the communication between them that was involved. Images and music from the opera will be shown and discussed. Following this presentation, there will be the opportunity to ask questions of the artists.
Saturday, October 1, 4:00 pm
Concert Hall, Mahaney Center for the Arts - free

"Glimpsing the Ephemeral"

Stephen Whiteman, Visiting assistant Professor, History of Art, Middlebury College, will briefly discuss themes relating to memory and identity in the opera "Lotus Lives" and in its staging before moderating a discussion with Su Lian Tan, composer, Tim Bartlett ‘98, set designer, and Arika Yamada, dancer, on the topic.
Sunday, October 2, 2:15 pm
Concert Hall, Mahaney Center for the Arts - Free


lotus_image_1

Lotus Lives is a bold experiment in opera. This new work tells the story of the artificiality demanded of Chinese-American women—and perhaps of all women. Their upbringing and the traditional education of girls alienates them from their true selves.

 

Lotus Lives offers hope to those who would overcome stereotypes.

 

The music composed by Su Lian Tan incorporates elements of rap, Chinese folk music, and dance club music into its lovely, high-art classical melodies.  The libretto, written by award-winning poet Anne Babson, is non-linear—designed to reveal itself like a lotus flower opening—and filled with moments of humor and triumph, including vignettes from club VIP lounges, as well as a Chinese folktale as a parable.

Like its subject, Lotus Lives offers seemingly contradictory elements blended into a delicious and exuberant romp.

 


 

Composer: Su Lian Tan
Librettist: Anne Babson
Conductor: Evan Bennett
Visuals and Set Design: Tim Bartlett '98
Director: Claudio Medeiros '90
Brenda Patterson, mezzo-soprano
Miriam Gordon-Stewart, soprano
Music by the Meridian Arts Ensemble
David Bowlin, violin
Arika Yamada: choreographer, dancer
Denys Drozdyuk, dancer
Sonia Hsieh '10: dancer, actor

 


 

Some comments about the performance in development:

“It rocked the house!”
“So inspiring.”
“You should perform it over and over again – as many times as possible.”
“This is going to do amazing things for Chinese women around the world.”


If you would like to read more....

 


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