Opera: De/institutionalized

Adored, vilified, mocked and venerated, opera is a many-headed dragon slumbering in a dark cave: everyone knows what it is, but no one wants to touch it. This weekend, Opera Cabal, a locally-grown performance group, endeavors to dispel the myth of opera, bringing light into the cave and breathing some life into the slumbering beast.

Opera, as we know it, is already a re-imagining, born out the fertile minds of Italian humanists trying to recreate Greek dramas—and assuming that they were mostly sung. Opera Cabal re-imagines opera once again, relentlessly asking what it is and isn’t, what is essential and superfluous, and how it could be different.

Over the last 400 years, opera has grown like a Bansai tree in the caring hands of the Italians, French and Germans and has thus been refined into a rigid formula, a well-defined product that audiences approach with 2 tons of prejudicial baggage.

This weekend, Opera Cabal presents operaSHOP, an experimental pairing of two emerging composers in conversation/competition/collaboration to create an opera—or, at least, a performance.

The result contains many of the elements of opera—music, texts, images, narrative, even a little singing—but arranged in such a way that it bears little resemblance to stereotypical opera.

The two composers, both currently at Princeton, bring sound worlds that could hardly be more different. Elliot Cole‘s De Rarum is a beat-driven, rhyming-poetic “rap” that retells the history of everything from the “invention of the angle” to the granaries at Kish to the ships that “trailed the roads of whales asunder.” It functions like an extended recitative accompanied by a hip hop beat and simple melodies, combining these elements so densely that it very nearly approximates the grandiosity traditionally associated with opera.

The other half of operaSHOP belongs to Caroline Shaw. From Mr. Cole’s warp-speed macrocosmic verbal onslaught, Ms. Shaw slows time to a crawl, using loops to create harmonies over which to sing. From a vision of the Supreme All, she gives us the All in the One, investigating the divine microcosm, the proverbial miracle in the single flower.

There is a Friday night preview performance on the north side, free with RSVP: m [at] operacabal [dot] com

And a performance Saturday in Hyde Park at U of C’s Fulton Hall.

Both shows are at 7:30.

Filed under: operacabal

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