Pittsburgh Opera released the online premiere of a produced online version of In a groveby the GRAMMY nominated composer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Christophe Cerron and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann.
The production led by Mary Birnbaum and led by Antoine Walker– had its world premiere performances from February 19 to March 3, 2022 live in Pittsburgh. Described as “an opera that will live long in my memory” (Opera News) and “seductive and dramatically hypnotic” (Wall Street Journal), In a Grove was commissioned by the Los Angeles Opera with additional support from Raulee Marcus and Stephen Block, Pittsburgh Opera and Metropolis Ensemble. Viewers can stream In a Grove for free on pittsburghopera.org/GroveVideo. Watch the In a Grove trailer here.
Based on a short story of the same name by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, In a Grove follows seven witness accounts of a murder, each clashing in perspective, offering a searing investigation into the impossibility and elusiveness of the truth. LA Opera will present the West Coast premiere of In a Grove in a future season.
A silent, waiting grove is the scene of a fatal encounter between a man, a woman, and a thief. The shifting viewpoints of Akutagawa’s classic short story, on which Rashomon was based, lends itself eloquently to the music’s ability to evoke, through repetition and variation, the way perception is colored by emotions and vulnerable to interference. Characterized by a subtle manipulation of timbre and resonance, composer Christopher Cerrone’s music balances richness and austerity, immersive textures and revealing detail. This haunting new adaptation, set in the aftermath of a wildfire in the Pacific Northwest, combines the dramatic impact and interiority of Cerrone’s unique voice with the charged, poetic text of librettist Stephanie Fleischmann. to produce a powerful inquiry into how we see, hear, remember and believe. .
Into a land of shattered dreams, marred by violence and obscured by smoke, comes a young woman who upends conventional notions of gender and narratives of victimhood, claiming agency for herself. Transpiring in a borderland torn by class struggle and fear of the other, this feminist retelling of Akutagawa’s story manifests a world in which the environment is under siege and wildly deviant personal truths compete with facts. absolute.
The dynamic staging of Mary Birnbaum’s track places the audience on either side of the playing space, so that each spectator’s experience is unique. Four transformative performers occupy eight roles, each becoming both witness and author. Fog envelops the space as each successive testimony plunges us into ever more fallible regions of the human heart, gradually drawing the viewer deeper into the phantom forest that is the grove.
Four singers are doubles, each assuming the role of both witness and participant in the crime. A medium communicates with the victim’s ghost, straddling the thin line between the living and the dead, with no more access to the truth than anyone else.
The cast of the Pittsburgh Opera includes Yazid Gray as a lumberjack and outlaw (Luther Harlow), Andrew Turner as a policeman and man (Ambrose Raines), Madeline Ehlinger as Leona Raines and the mother of Leona, and Chuanyuan Liu as a priest and medium. Nine instrumentalists, accompanied by a bed of site-reactive electronics, also function as characters, or facets thereof, each in concert with a different testimony.
Christopher Cerrone discovered the news of Akutagawa In a Grove in the fall of 2014 when he began researching a sequel to his 2013 opera Invisible Cities, which was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Music. He explains, “In Akutagawa’s story, I found a complex, multi-faceted story where any notion of objective truth was impossible; we, the readers, have to decide for ourselves what happened. I thought this story, with its unique structure, would make the perfect opera. The shifting perspectives and shifting repetitions of a single event would allow me to use the language of music to create an opera where events are told and retold in immaculate emotional detail; where the shifting and erroneous memory of the characters can be reinforced by vocal distortion and reverberation.”
Cerrone continues, “After discovering Stephanie Fleischmann’s lyrical and hard-hitting librettos, I recruited her to join the project. She brought new nuance and complexity to the story – coloring in the details of our characters’ lives. Now set in the Pacific Northwest in the rubble of a wildfire, our adaptation – a feminist narrative – focuses on the tragedy of conflicting personal truths. Each main character confesses to the murder of a man named Ambrose (a a nod to American writer Ambrose Bierce, an inspiration for Akutagawa); it is their inability to communicate with each other that drives the engine of the opera’s conflict. Over the ensuing years, our Society feels itself on a precipice where basic facts can no longer be agreed upon. As a result, the story of this opera feels ever more urgent.”