Yesterday I met with Tapestry Opera Artistic Director Michael Mori to ask him about their upcoming how Tap:Ex Tables Turned. What follows is an attempt to distill an hour and three quarters of wide ranging conversation into something readable without, I hope, distorting what Michael actually said too much.
We started by talking about “How on Earth he came up with the idea?”. There a few key themes here. First, Tap:Ex is about exploration and experimentation with new forms of performance practice. This is rooted in Michael’s belief that “opera is inherently a popular genre” and that the task is to find a way of doing “it” that connects with a modern audience. He firmly believes that the audience for beautifully sung spectacle in a large opulent theatre is inherently limited and that we need to find ways to connect new audiences probably through different ways of presenting work (he mentioned choreography for example) and by using more intimate, less intimidating venues. He cited Philadelphia’s willingness to take risks with second stages versus the compararive lack of success of companies that had tried to experiment in a large house. He also quoted statistics that suggested that the “new audience” problem is less to do with getting people to the opera once but much more about how to get them to come back for a second and subsequent time.
The second “big idea” is about the role of experimentation in performance. Michael believes that composers “are too often experimenting in the final piece”. Part of this is because of how the opera biz works. A composer, often with no experience of writing for the stage, is commissioned. They come back five years later with the “finished” piece and it has to be knocked into shape in a few weeks of rehearsals. Tapestry is much more about trying ideas out on a small scale and then “what works, we keep”. The best projects that emerge from the LibLab and workshops end up as full length staged works. The rest get ditched along the way. Tap:Ex extends that idea to ways of performing rather than individual works.
The third theme is that opera needs to connect to popular culture. We live in a world of stars and celebrities. We also live in a rather nostalgic age. How can these ideas be used? Maybe the COC isn’t far off track with using Rufus Wainwright as long as he can transfer his appeal to a different genre. And that’s where Nicole Lizée and her turntables , 80s and 90s electronics and clips from iconic films come in. It’s a way of playing with a particularly North American nostalgia.
Which led on eventually to “So what is it?”; meaning Tap:Ex Tables Turned. Basically it’s a collaboration between composer and electronic music artist Nicole Lisée and Carla Huhtanen; one of the most versatile sopranos I know. It will feature sampling and remixing of the source materials presented both electronically and by Carla. There will be video projections. And the sources? There will be two sets. The first, The Criterion Collection will use iconic Hitchcock films, The Sound of Music and a surprise. Here, of course, is the nostalgia link to popular culture. The second set is called La Callas and will use video and sound recordings of perhaps the last opera star who really was a “celebrity”. More than that? Who knows at this stage?
I know I’m very, very intrigued and I’m sure that there will “something that will surprise you”. Tap:Ex Tables Turned runs for two nights; March 20th and 21st at 8pm at the Ernest Balmer Studio.
Finally, on a personal note, a big “thank you” to Michael for being so generous with his time, even if I’m not the “younger face” that opera needs!