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A doom-metal opera?
Sure, why not?
"Opera is really just a combination of art forms that people already love," said Utah Symphony | Utah Opera marketing communications manager Ginamarie Marsala, who has spearheaded the idiom-melding initiative "Operas From the Hive." The project a collaboration among Utah Opera, the Salty Cricket Composers Collective and the storytelling collective The Bee, funded by OPERA America's Building Opera Audiences Grant Program debuts to the public Tuesday night with a screening of five multimedia operas. The pieces, which range from 4 to 11 minutes in length, will be viewable on YouTube a couple of weeks later.
Each opera features a singer from Utah Opera's Resident Artists training program, singing in operatic style. Librettos are adapted from true tales that were originally shared at The Bee. The subjects include an unlikely marriage, a ghostly visitation and family drama at a Passover Seder. Three of the operas were written by Salty Cricket composers and use conventional chamber instrumentation; the other two were created by the melodic doom-metal band Turned to Stone and the jazz-influenced JRANK. Marsala said Turned to Stone's lead vocalist, Paul Black, graciously turned over the mic to tenor Christian Sanders to tell Austin Stephenson's story "Found Awakening."
Stephenson's story comes from a painful period in 2015 when, despondent over a breakup and suffering from an anxiety disorder, he attempted suicide by drug overdose. "It was a calculated event," he said. "I thought there was no possible way I'd survive." But somehow he woke to news of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that all states must recognize same-sex marriages. Suddenly, the world seemed less bleak.
"It was an awakening to what the world is and what I'd almost lost," Stephenson recalled. It took a few months to get back on track, "but I'm definitely in a much better place. I've never been as happy as I am now. … It's been kind of surreal. The whole thing started so darkly."
"Austin's story ends on a very positive note," said Turned to Stone guitarist Andy Medeiros. "We're not used to doing major scales, but we wanted something triumphant and uplifting." Composing music to an existing text was another new experience for the band, which usually starts with the music, he noted.
The project was also "a whole new adventure" to Sanders, who has been steeped in opera for nine years. Not only is the musical style different, but opera singers typically do their work live in one take, said Utah Opera's principal coach, Carol Anderson, who helped match up singers to stories. ("Something about the timbre of Christian's voice worked really well with the band," she said.)
Anderson provided another set of ears as the opera singers recorded their tracks at David Evanoff Sound Designs in South Salt Lake in April. Medeiros and bassist Kristofori Maile also gave input. Maile suggested Sanders add harmonies on certain phrases; the singer looked over the score, composed a harmony in his head and popped back into the booth to sing the lines, "Dealing with panic attacks/Glass of whiskey chasing Xanax."
"[The phrase] 'panic attacks,' I feel, could go a little wilder," Anderson said; Medeiros and Maile suggested Sanders add another layer of harmony.
"Let me do the 'Xanax' one more time," the tenor said.
"Meat Loaf would be proud of you," Evanoff, one of Utah's top sound engineers, said after hearing the results. "I'm not used to guys coming in and singing those [high] notes and wanting to do it again."
"It was cool to have both sides and see how similar they were," Sanders said after the session. "It was sort of like a mini workshop in art and how art works in the world, taking and shaping and bending things."
"There's a perception we want to break down, that opera is untouchable," Marsala said. "It's a beautiful thing with lots of years of history. … What we're doing here is taking a traditional art form and modern artists are making it happen. The stories are relatable. We're hoping people who haven't been exposed to opera will see that."
What's the buzz?
Utah Opera, the Salty Cricket Composer Collective and The Bee present "Operas From the Hive," an evening of short multimedia operas.
When • Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Where • The Club at 50 West, 50 W. Broadway, Salt Lake City
Tickets • Sold out, but there's a waiting list; email email@example.com with the subject line "Night at the Opera Waiting List"
More online • Watch facebook.com/operasfromthehive for updates and additional information
"My Daughter the Furies" • Ashley Sanders, story; Margot Glassett Murdoch, composer; Sarah Coit, singer; Leon Chodos, bassoon; Erin Svoboda, clarinet; Noriko Kishi, cello; Leslie Richards, viola; video by Ori Media. Pregnant out of wedlock, Ashley Sanders weighs her options but finds herself transformed once she holds her baby.
"The Selection Procedure" • Brian Higgins, story; Devin Maxwell, composer; Markel Reed, singer; Rosco Quartet (Jakob Hofer, Jesse Massey, Lauren Posey, Sunny Johnson); video by Phase 2 Productions powered by Spy Hop. Brian Higgins has had three paranormal activities in his life, but this story is about his relationship with his great-great granny and her intervention in an important Irish exam called The Selection Procedure.
"Dirt" • Celeste Chaney, story; JRANK (Nathan Iverson, Roger Thom, Amy Allred, Kyle Whipple, James Cherry), composer; Jessica Jones, singer; animation by Tawna Duncan. After a marriage proposal gone awry, Celeste Chaney eventually cancels the engagement and later, through an even more unlikely string of events, ends up marrying her former fiancé's boss.
"Found Awakening" • Austin Stephenson, story; Turned to Stone (Kristofori Maile, Andy Medeiros, Ian Mitchell, Matt Hansen), composer; Christian Sanders, singer; animation by Impatient Cow Productions. After a loving relationship ends, Austin Stephenson realizes he has lost himself. He attempts suicide but, to his surprise, wakes up the next day to positive news that leads him to turn his life around.
"On All Other Nights" • Steve Sternfeld, story; Aaron J. Kirschner, composer; Markel Reed, singer; Timothy Accurso, piano; David Hall, saxophone and flute; Erin Voellinger, clarinet; recorded live at Club at 50 West and mixed by David Evanoff. Growing up, Steve Sternfeld was not sure if the manner that his family celebrated Passover was traditional behavior or ritualistic behavior or the intersection of the two. After many years, Steve cannot handle this situation any longer and finally speaks up.
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