A new chamber opera in development
Music by Sivan Eldar
Text by Cordelia Lynn
I dreamt the world cracked open like an egg,
said one lover to the other,
and you came spilling out /
said the other, interrupting.
No, said the dreamer,
'Now I am ready to tell how bodies are changed into different bodies...' - Ovid
Two lovers, loving.
Each so bound up in the other that the world fades from view. They are one person, one thought, one touch, one song, until a hidden history of violence reveals itself, engendering a profound transformation.
Flesh hardens to bark, fingers shatter into leaves and feet grow roots, digging deep into the earth. As the form of one body changes, so must the shape of love, but can it, and should it, survive?
Inspired by tales from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Like flesh is a story of passion, shifting identities, and our relationship with the natural world.
The text of Like flesh offers a radical departure from the dialogue-based libretto. Written as a vibrant, poetic monologue for vocal ensemble, it reflects the Ancient Greek theatre chorus in keeping with the myth at its heart.
The ensemble tells tales of metamorphosis and nature, creating a rich metaphorical world for the soloists to inhabit. The two lovers are played variously by three singers, a dancer and an instrumentalist, disrupting traditional uses of text and character.
Like flesh aims to explore a gender-ambiguous text, reflecting a subtler spectrum of sexual identity and bringing the operatic love story to a contemporary, curious and queerer generation.
THEMES & POLITICS
Like flesh was born out of an ambition to tell stories of love and desire in the opera form which confound the male/female binary, and the gendered expectations that come with it. Ovid’s Metamorphoses are tales of passion in extremis, passion so great that the human possessed by it bursts into another form, transcending from the natural into the supernatural. At the heart of many of these myths is a violence in passion, from male to female, and the metamorphosis offers an escape from lust and a climactic but tragic preservation of chastity. But what might these stories offer us if they don’t end on their expected climax?
In Like flesh, the metamorphosis is only the beginning, acting as a rich and ambiguous metaphor, for the body of a survivor of violence, for a queer body experiencing desire outside of traditional gender norms, for a body in transition. The Beloved becomes un-gendered through their transformation but, liberated from the trappings of their sex, is no less passionate. The Lover, rather than defeated, is curious, and attempts a relationship with this unrecognised form, strange to human touch, living on a different timescale, and connected with multitudes of other bodies through its ecology, rather than committed to just one.
Continuing Ovid’s exploration of humans changed to animal, plant or other natural lifeforms, Like flesh draws on ecological relationship models, re-imagining what relationships could be in our world - a world that is still aggressively resistant to the multiplicities of gender expression, and any sexual deviance from the norm.
Like flesh focuses on the relationship between the human voice and its expressive, physical, and transformative possibilities. Echoing shifting states of awareness, intimacy and being, voices and characters exist on a spectrum where thresholds are naturally mutable and amorphous: Presence is accentuated through absence; action is explored through intention. Entangled, the voices are absorbed into the environment around them, created through layers of electronic sounds. Boundary-less, they spill into space, engulfed by an open-ended mosaic which is their ecology, created through live vocal processing.
Like flesh creates a distinction between the intimate world of the lovers and the outside world around them through on-stage and off-stage instrumental and vocal forces. The lover’s world onstage is scored for three solo voices (soprano, contralto, bass), two instrumental soloists, and two movement actors. As one lover shifts form, from soprano to contralto, the other responds by exploring new possibilities of expression and touch, slipping from singer to dancer to instrumentalist.
Meanwhile, the outside world, scored for a small chamber ensemble and an SATB vocal quartet off-stage, contextualizes the events, tying them to the literary and geological histories of metamorphosis and growth. Integral to the outside world is also the role of live and fixed electronics, developed at and supported by IRCAM.
Like flesh is a chamber opera with a projected running time of 90 minutes.
Metamorphoses - Ovid, translated by Ted Hughes: Ovid’s Metamorphoses is our primary source material for Like flesh. Containing over 250 myths, this epic poem tells stories of bodies changed into different bodies through violence, passion, punishment and liberation.
The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson: The Argonauts explores love and queer family-making through the lens of transition, both in the narrator’s pregnancy and her relationship with the artist Harry Dodge, who is gender-fluid.
The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibility of Life in Capitalist Ruins – Anna Lowenhaupt-Tsing: An anthropological investigation into capitalist destruction and collaborative survival, The Mushroom at the End of the World uses the natural growth and human supply chain of the Matsutake mushroom to tell a story of diversity in damaged landscapes.
The Hidden Life of Trees: What they Feel, How they Communicate – Peter Wohlleben: Forester Peter Wohlleben draws on ground-breaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families, connected through the forest network deep below the ground. From his personal experience, he describes the processes of life, death and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.
The work of composer Sivan Eldar has been described as “vividly imagined” (The Boston Globe), “ethereal” (Oakland Musical Examiner), “beautifully melancholic” (Opera Plus), “radiating with poetic sounds and silences” (ResMusica) and "with a unique sensitivity to dramaturgy" (Diapason). She has worked with many of today’s leading ensembles, including the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, Diotima String Quartet, Divertimento Ensemble, Ensemble Multilatérale, Exaudi Vocal Ensemble, International Ensemble Modern Academy and Ensemble Musica Nova, at festivals such as Festival ManiFeste, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Royaumont Voix Nouvelles, Rainy Days Festival, Impuls Festival, Festival Tzlil Meudcan, at diverse venues including Boston’s Symphony Hall, Paris’ Maison de la Radio, Le Centquatre and Pompidou, Oslo’s Baerum Kulturhaus, NY's Bohemian National Hall, and Berlin’s RADIOALSYSTEM-V.
Sivan began her musical education in Tel Aviv at the age of 5, studying classical piano and voice. At the age of 15 she moved to New Mexico to continue her education at the United World College, where she studied composition while becoming involved in environmental and political work. She continued her studies in Boston at the New England Conservatory (BM), where she studied composition, piano and ethnomusicology, alongside courses in gender studies and ethics. She moved to California to pursue her PhD in composition at UC Berkeley with Franck Bedrossian and Edmund Campion with an emphasis in new media studies at the CNMAT (Center for New Music and Audio Technologies) and the BCNM (Berkeley Center for New Media). She then studied at IRCAM under Hèctor Parra (Cursus 2016-17), where she developed new tools for vocal writing, and began to collaborate with writer Cordelia Lynn and set designer Aurélie Lemaignen. During 2017-18 she was composer-in-residence at IRCAM, where she developped the composition Heave with Augustin Muller (RIM), Cordelia and Aurélie, an IRCAM/Royaumont Foundation commission for Exaudi Vocal Ensemble. Upcoming commissions include new works for Diotima String Quartet (Luxembourg Philarmonie/Festival Presences), Orchestre de Chambre de Paris, and Accentus Choir.
Sivan is currently based in Brooklyn and Paris. Her music is published by Universal Music Classical - Durand, Paris. [CV available HERE]
Cordelia is a playwright and librettist. She trained as a pianist until the age of sixteen at the Gnessin Academy, Moscow, and The Yehudi Menuhin School, UK. She went on to study literature and write, taking her English BA at the University of Bristol, and her MA in Modern Literature at University College London. She has lived around the world and is now settled in London, where she was born.
Her play Lela & Co. (2015) premiered at the Royal Court Theatre to critical acclaim, and her one-man monologue, Best Served Cold (2016) was performed at Vault Festival in London. She was the recipient of the Harold Pinter Commission 2017, and her Pinter Commission, One For Sorrow (2018) premiered at the Royal Court, directed by James Macdonald. She is under commission to Headlong Theatre Company and The Almeida Theatre.
Cordelia wrote the libretto for Miranda, a new opera after Henry Purcell, directed by Katie Mitchell at the Opera Comique, Paris (2017). She collaborates regularly on new vocal work with composer Sivan Eldar, including you’ll drown, dear which premiered at Manifest, Centquatre, Paris (2017), The White Princess, at the Maynier Courtyard, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence (2017) and Heave at Royaumont Festival, a co-production with IRCAM (autumn 2018).
Cordelia has also worked as a dramaturg, collaborating with Mitchell on the revival of her radical version of Lucia di Lammermoor at the Royal Opera House (2016/17). [CV available HERE]
Like Flesh Lab #2, October 28-31 2018
In this this second lab at Snape Maltings, Sivan Eldar and Cordelia Lynn were joined by an extended team of collaborators: cellist Severine Ballon, dancer Vinicius Salles, bass Jimmy Holliday, movement director Joseph Alford, soprano Juliet Fraser, and actress Carolina Valdés. Together, they continued to investigate elements of movement as a primary language in their opera. The lab culminated with a public open session performance on October 31st.
Like Flesh Lab #1, July 10-13 2018
During this lab at Snape Maltings Sivan Eldar and Cordelia Lynn investigated the potential of movement as a primary dramatic language in their opera. They were joined by director Joseph Alford (Royal Opera House, Festival d’Aix-en-Provence), soprano Juliet Fraser, vocal & movement artist Elaine Mitchener, and actress Carolina Valdés
ENOA workshop - Women Opera Makers, July 2-6 2018
Sivan Eldar participated in this workshop with director Katie Mitchell (ENOA/Festival d'Aix), aimed at supporting and guiding mid-career women in the opera industry (composers, librettists, directors and conductors). Cordelia Lynn participated in the first iteration of this workshop in 2016/17.
Académie du Festival d'Aix - Pinocchio Residency, July 3-10 2017
During this week-long residency, Sivan Eldar and Cordelia Lynn workshopped and premiered their creation The White Princess - an Académie commission.
Académie du Festival d'Aix - Opera Creation Workshop, June 21-30 2016
Sivan Eldar and Cordelia Lynn met at this workshop for young opera creators, led by dramaturge Willem Bruls. The workshop brought together artists from different disciplines to discuss and define the current values of opera and the tasks it will assume in the future.
for six voices and electronics
A collaboration between Sivan Eldar, Cordelia Lynn, Aurélie Lemaignen, and computer music designer Augustin Muller. Co-commissioned by the Royaumont Foundation / Ulysses Network / IRCAM for Exaudi Vocal Ensemble. Premiered at Festival Voix Nouvelles, Jardin de Royaumont, September 9th 2018.
Histories develop through contamination – a polyphonic assemblage of rhythms, trajectories, and spatial arcs. These histories tell us stories of livelihood within landscapes: a cycle of transformation, ruin, decay; stories of an evolution of our “selves”.
Heave – a new work for Exaudi vocal ensemble and live electronics – is a mosaic of entangled relationships between people and places. It is a modern love story that explores ecology and place in a world that is layered, vulnerable, precarious, and always shifting.
Heave is a collaborative project. It explores the musicians’ relationship to their
environment through a site-specific performance at Royaumont’s gardens, where the speaker array is seamlessly integrated into the site to create an augmented, shifting experience of the outdoors and of the lives that inhabit them.”
YOU'LL DROWN, DEAR (2017)
for mezzo-soprano and electronics
A collaboration between Sivan Eldar, Cordelia Lynn, and stage designer Aurélie Lemaignen. Developed at and produced by IRCAM, under the guidance of Hèctor Parra and Jean Lochard. Premiered at Festival Manifeste, Le Centquatre, Salle 400, June 20th 2017.
Further performances have included Festival Manifeste 2018 (Grand Salle, Centre Pompidou), Tectonics Festival in Tel Aviv, Resonant Bodies Festival at Banff Canada, and Cal Performances Series in Berkeley CA.
A woman in a room. In a chair. Reaching, pulling, closer, deeper, to silence.
Cordelia Lynn’s text, inspired by Rilke’s symbolist play "The White Princess" explores conflicting states: internal and external worlds, fantasy and reality, movement and stasis. In her musical setting, Sivan Eldar blurs the boundaries between the extremes. She resolves the conflict into a process of release – an emptying of the voice. It is an undressing in search for clarity.
THE WHITE PRINCESS (2017)
An operatic scene for two sopranos, percussion and electronics
An expansion of you'll drown, dear. A collaboration between Sivan Eldar, Cordelia Lynn, and Aurélie Lemaignen. Commissioned by the Academy of the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence. Premiered at the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence, Hôtel Maynier d'Oppède, July 20th 2017.
We wanted to set up a conflict and tension and difference between the two characters. Age seemed to be one way to represent this. There are other differences as well: the Old Woman is very still, the Young Woman is very active, the Old Woman is very internalised, concerned with her inner world, the Young Woman is very externalised, concerned with the world around her. But they are more connected than they think, and when they really meet something very explosive will happen. The boundaries of their worlds will blur and disintegrate. It is very hard for diverse worlds to coexist.
Click HERE to read the full interview with the Festival d'Aix-en-Provence.