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Emotional Anatomies

In his forthcoming book, The Impossible Art, composer Matthew Aucoin likens his early immersion in opera not to the pageantry of going to a live performance, but rather to the solitude of reading a book. “Operas, like the young-adult fiction I was reading at the time, felt to me like interior adventures rather than extravagant […]

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Adaptation in America

Becoming an opera librettist was, for me, a natural extension of years spent working as a playwright in downtown New York theater and experimental music-theater. That fertile stomping ground provided an immersion into the dramaturgy of space and sound, the architectonics of tension, duration, and alternate modes of language and narrative. Writing for theater, I […]

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Necessary Shadows

Who invented black metal, that hateful, unholy, visionary genre? Potential candidates include bands Venom, Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate, or, most likely, the revolutionary Bathory. But exactly 100 years before Venom’s 1982 album “Black Metal” codified the term, the world saw a work similarly infused with perverted religiosity, hatred, mutilation, darkness, extreme ideological stances, blood, racist […]

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Mad Scene

Sylvia Korman is a graduate student in English at CUNY in Manhattan. They curate one of the most striking corners of opera Twitter, the account People Mad at Opera (@operacomments). “I’m not actually a music person at all,” Korman tells me. “I have no non-dilettantish background in opera.” But their knowledge of opera is keen.  […]

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The Intelligence of Bodies

When VAN asked me to do a review of an artificial-intelligence-created realization of Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony called “Beethoven X: The AI Project,” which is based on the skimpy sketches he left when he died, I more or less groaned in my reply. “Not for me,” I said. “I know pretty much what I’ll think about […]

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Like the Volga Singing

Psychoanalysis and opera both have an uneven relationship to feminism, to put it mildly. The former, even when challenging the disorienting, traumatic quality of patriarchy, is a product of that same power. The practice’s roots lie in Jean-Martin Charcot’s Salpêtrière hospital in Paris, which turned the confinement of so-called “hysterical” women into a public spectacle. […]

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A Demonstration of a Physical Fact

I. I am sitting in a room  As the tenor of the coronavirus became amplified in March of 2020, so too did the memes. In those early days of the first lockdown, there wasn’t much else to do besides spend time indoors, cycling through facts and farce with the attention span of a goldfish, and […]

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Randomness with Direction

“Somehow, after all, as the universe ebbs towards its final equilibrium in the featureless heat bath of maximum entropy, it manages to create interesting structures,” wrote James Gleick in his popular exploration of chaos theory. Nature’s natural tendency is to form patterns. Conversely, the universe teems with randomness and dissipation. “But randomness with direction can […]