Chamber Opera: The Savage Garden (working title)

The Savage Garden will be a new chamber opera for the JACK Quartet and two singers: Kirsten Sollek and Eric Brenner, based upon an original libretto (in progress) by Kathryn Walat. This opera takes place in a magic garden. It is a story about emotional entrapment. The garden, which at the beginning has no walls, becomes more enclosed and constraining as the tension between the two characters increases. Both characters have similar voice-types, but are different genders: a male soprano and a female mezzo-soprano. The male soprano tends the garden; he is reclusive, removed from society. He craves and yet fears human companionship. The mezzo’s character is from a town nearby. She craves and yet fears solitude.

Both characters are drawn to one another, inexorably. Each wants and yet resents what the other seems to have. In a struggle that unfolds as part love story and part tale of rage, they eventually consume one another emotionally, in an increasingly enclosed garden that reflects each character’s shrinking sense of self.

The garden’s role throughout the piece is an important one. It sets the emotional stage for what goes on between the characters, and also reflects the changes that occur in their relationship as the story unfolds. It provides a sense of isolation from the outside world, giving the opera a fairytale-like atmosphere that feels both removed from reality and palpably immediate.

The string quartet also participates in the telling of the story with its four equal yet distinct voices. The different instruments’ roles can move in and out of focus in relation to one another, their identities blurring into one another. Just as the garden acts as both a setting for the drama and a manifestation of it, so can the string quartet take multiple perspectives. It can at times be a musical backdrop or sound-environment, almost as an impartial narrator; while at other times it can reflect or react to the drama between the characters.

The instrumentation and a few aspects of the psychological theme for this piece are shared with an earlier work of mine, Blood Rose, although the story and focus are different. I am fascinated with these particular voice-types in interaction and what they can imply in a dramatic setting. Perhaps this piece could be viewed as a companion to Blood Rose.

What makes this opera special is its focus. The story is highly distilled: its sole action is the interaction of the two characters and how the garden manifests this interaction. The piece lives in a world that is both luridly real and abstract, dealing with the particular and the prototypical as two sides of one coin. The story is not based upon a historical event, a famous person’s life, or a pre-existing story or source. Its premise is clear and its unfolding minute. It is a tragedy in crystallized form, pared down to throw into sharp relief the complexity of the changing relationship between the characters.

Petrushka Reimagined: a Ballet

More information soon…