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Volume 7 Issue 6 - March 2002

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FEATllRE: COMPOSER TO

FEATllRE: COMPOSER TO COMPOSER Alexina Louie interviewed by Paul Steenhuisen For composer Alexina Louie, the past few months have been full of pleasant summations. While finishing touches were being put on the video version of her 6-rninute tragic opera buff a Toothpaste (www.toothpastetv. corn), she received the honour of the Order of Ontario, in recognition of her career achievements. The over-riding project, however, the one that has consumed nearly all of her creative energies over the past six years, is her opera The Scarlet Princess. Written.to a libretto by David Henry Hwang (author of M f3utterfly and screenplays for Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppolla, and others) the score calls for a cast of 3 main characters, 24- voice chorus and 55-piece orchestra. The concert version will be performed on April 23rc1 at the George ' Weston Recital Hall, while the Opera America conference takes place in Toronto. Subsequent to this performance, I would expect a fully staged production to follow, though there is currently no commitment to do so. Nearing the end of'orchestrating her 500-page score, she took time to reflect on the project, the process, and her operatic goals. STEENHUISEN: Please provide a brief outline of the story. LOUIE: The story is taken from a 17th Century Japanese puppet play that was later transformed into a kabuki play called The Scarlet Princess ofEdo. It's about a monk who has fallen in love with his acolyte, his male student. The characters, 14 feeling guilty about don't get to know how the character and what have you di~carded? their love, climb up got to be that way, why they are that LOUIE: I would say that mine is in · a mountain to commit way. I want the audience to buy into the tradition of grand opera. ·It's in double suicide. it, and I don't want there to be big two acts, with a prologue. Because From the stormy up- holes in the characterization. With I have a brilliaat playwright as libretper reaches, they regard to the princess, I also guided tist, the drama moves very well. The sing of their undying David into focussing the language he clarity and differentiation of characlove and plan to jump used, to clarify her point of view. I ters is also part of operatic tradition, together so they can often said "That's absolutely fantas- and I worked hard at that. I chose to . be reunited in the af- tic, but a woman wouldn't think that maintain a recitative-aria structure, terlife, when one of way, a woman wouldn't say that. because the plot line is driven by drathern will be reborn She wouldn't ,be so analytical, she rnatic events. I felt there had to be a as a woman. After would feel it this way." I don't gen- very clear definition between recitajurnping, the acolyte erally spend a lot of time thinking tive and song, so that when you arlooks up to see that about the gender situation of creators, rived at a point where the character the priest hasn't but I did find it fascinating that I had was in such a heightened emotional jumped, and re- to lead him to use words that a state, they would actually sing. rnainsatopthernoun- woman would use. Awareness and Also, the piece is two hours tain. The boy. dies reflection of these gender issues long, and if I took the approach of and is later reborn as wasn't something I was looking for - many contemporary operas, of the Princess of Edo; it's not at the forefront of my think- through-composed arioso, by the end the two meet again, .ing, because you have to get on with of it people would want to string me and she spurns him. The priest be- making art - but there it w~, a corn- up by my toes. It becomes a matter comes increasingly obsessed with plete revelation! · of balance and weight, to control the her, until she's eventually cast out of STEENHUIS EN: What possessed musical architecture over a long pethe ruling class and becomes a pros- you to do an opera? riod of time, which is completely titute. She hooks up with a bandit, daunting. Having workshops really . who becomes her pimp, and these 3 LOUIE: I'd been reluctant to write helped me develop this, because I characters are involved in many one. Despite having been approached thought I had been pacing it well, but highly charged scenes involving re- to write an opera for more than 10 I realized that I wasn't, that it was incarnation, the murder of the monk, years, I never had any interest in the becoming what I was trying to avoid. his transformation into a demonic rn~iwn, because I i thought it was Part of that was because my libretto ghost, the cruelty of the pimp, his overblown, and I like dealing with _is so strong. It's a beautiful libretto, poisoning, and her escape and sub- the subtleties of orchestral or cham- it's really fine, and there are funny sequent redemption. Toward the ber music. Secondly• I just couldn't things in it to offset the grand tragend, in the most taut, tense, culmi- bend my head around the form itself, edy. Those humorous moments nating moment of the opera, she is that you had to go through so much heighten the horrible ones. I really forced to perform an unspeakable recitative in order to stall.ct at the couldn't say enough words of praise act, during which she has an epiphany mountaintop and hear a beautiful for David. and realizes what she must do. She aria. I didn't get it. I didn't understand the form, and because I didn't STEENHUISEN: What is the relaaccornplishes an act of mercy and · h and h · ? her past is forgiven. The opera then ·understand, I didn't appreciate the tzon between t e text t e music. u do h · t t t th ends with a beautiful Buddhist chant. tiorm. It Was Only after I had done now you set 1s ex o ? convey e the COC/Tapestry New Opera situationandpsychology. STEENHUISEN: Would you agree Works workshop that I came to un- LOUIE: I have to keep asking mythat the story is somewhat unconven- derstand that I could write dramatic· self certain questions - what are the tional, inthatthemaincharacterisa music, and it was at this time that I characters feeling, why are they strong female lead, rather than a wrote Toothpaste. By jumping in, I singing this way? You have to aswoman in a submissive role? realized that I could do it, though I sess the situation, to assess the dra­ LOUIE: Interestingly, when I selected the story, I didn't think spe­ - this has been a huge job, bigger than things forlater on. A composer tloes didn't foresee what I was getting into matic location in the opera, and save cifically about that. It -:vasn't until I was well into writing the piece that I wondered ifl made her such a strong character in part because it's already rare to have an opera written by a woman. Throughout the writing anything I could ever imagine, and that anyway, say, in tj1e architecture it's been a humbling experience. of a string quartet, but you don't want Even if you're aware of the specific to blow your information all at one demands of the genre, if you 're point, you have to hold back until the aware of the problems, it's not until point comes that you feel it'~time to you actually go in and hear it that you release that amount of information. process, I continued to press my librettist grow and learn. You can intellectu-. You have to weigh things, and to not make her into a de­ monic character. If she is to perform alize, but it's not until you wrestle that's hard to do over a period of 6 with it that you know. It's not like years. I had to make sure that the these horrible acts, the audi­ writing a string quartet- if you make music of Act 1 matched the music of ence has to understand why. I guided a mistake, the whole 2-hour opera is Act 2; which was written 6 years him into making her a sympathetic in jeopardy, and that's a big, big pe- later. In this way it's been a great character, shaping the psychology of riod of time. ' learning experience. Over time, I her presentation. STEENHUISEN: When comparing would somet~es request more text, As an opera audience member, your piece with 19~ century opera, or another ana, where I could flesh I am often put off by thdact that you what elements have you preserved, Interview continues on page 20 www.thewholenote.com M arch 1 -- April 7 2002

NEW MtJSJC HEAR& Now you, for violin, brass, and gamelan, CONTINUED FROM PAGE 13 by Michael Oesterle, and traditional Sundanese music. Jophones, drums, cymbals and flutes. The concert will feature Ger- EGOYAN/DE ALVEAR man composer Dieter Mack's I look forward to hearing Eve Crosscurrents, for Sundanese Egoyan premiere Spanish composer Gamelan Degung instruments. Maria de Alvear's 50-minute solo Mack writes that "Traditional instruments have a peculiar character (es­ (http://www.interlog.com/-emu/). piano piece Asking, on March 10 pecially the tuning), timbre and technique but also something that goes and powerful minimalist work using The music is described as "a poetic beyond the local musical impacts of proportional notation - a style of composition that relies heavily on the per­ their respective origin. And it is especially this tension between these former's interpretive skills. Following notes along the score is like fol­ two poles that interests me". Drawn to an ambiguity of harmony and narrative, in her new work est barely illuminated by the moon. lowing a trail of stones through a for­ A liglu Snow Linda Catlin Smith was The score is not a map. There are inspired by the work of Jasper Johns, no tempo indications, no phrasing from an exhibition at the Museum of instructions, no bar lines, no note Modem Art in New York. Also ori values to impede the flow. The piece the program is All the green around is mysterious and mesmerizing. Simr~ The New Guitar C o n c e rt s 2002 pie, expressive motivic ideas and delicately sh.ifting rhythms hang suspended above a resonant harmonic ground shattered by episodes of charged intensity." Maria de Alvear will travel from Germany for the performance, and will discuss her work at the Goethe-Institut, on Monday, March 11, from5:30-7:00p.m. On International Women's Day, (March 8, 8pm, the Music Gallery), Arraymusic will celebrate the music of women composers with ON THE EDGE, a concert of music for ensemble and piano. The ensemble works will be September OJ by Dutch composer Margriet Ifoenderdos, Mother Hubbard by Canadian composer Juliet Palmer, and Symphony No. 4 - Prayer, by RllSsian composer Galina Ustvolskaya. The concert is rounded o~t with three wor~ for piano, each composed by the featured composers: Aquamarine by Palmer; Sonata No. 4 by Ustvolskaya; and Es verjilngt sich nach unten for.piano, and riglu hand, by Hoenderdos. My last featured concert in Hear & Now this month is Continuum's "Angle of Vision", on March 20 (also at the Music Gallery). The pieces on this concert all share moments of theatricality, and the Continuum ensemble aims to exploit the musical flamboyance to its maximum. Toronto composer Juliet Palmer presents Trellis, for clarinet, alto saxophone and cello, featuring violinist Mark Fewer performing on alto saxophone(!). West coast composer Douglas Schmidt is known for his quirky unconventionality, and madcap accordion playing, and he HEAR& Now CONTINUES ON PAGE 16 March 22 2·002 The Montreal Guitar Trio Glenn Levesque, Marc Morin Sebastien Dufour Gismonti New Piece Senoir Momentary Follies Dufour Garam masa/a "Spirited, excellent rhythmicists, seemingly broken free from harmonic constraints, and sensitive to the colours of their h­ strument, these three players have no difficulty in enthralling us" Dominique Olivier, Voir Heliconian Hall 35 Hazelton Avenue 8 PM Tickets for all concerts / The SOCAN Foundation to rontda rtsbou n ci I An arm's length bod y ol the Cll y of To ronto www .newguitar.net 416 224-5858 ,_ ' ~; - ~'-' Must see perfonnances for new music lovers 197 John Street 416.204.1080 www.musicgallery.org TRIO FIBONACCI Saturday March 9 8pm Enjoy the worl

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