Album Notes



Music and Libretto by Robert Ashley

Thomas Buckner, The Agent
Robert Ashley, Interrogator Nº 1
Jacqueline Humbert, Interrogator Nº 2
Sam Ashley, Interrogator Nº 3

Orchestration by Robert Ashley and Tom Hamilton.
Engineering and mixing by Tom Hamilton.
Produced by Robert Ashley.

The matter of giving credit to individuals for particular contributions to the creation of "eL/Aficionado" is unusually difficult for me, both because of the way I compose music of this sort (opera) and because of the sheer bulk of such contributions over the six-year history of the work.

Most important to explain is the technique of the vocal characterization. In every solo or ensemble part, the singer is given a "character defining" pitch (that is, a pitch somewhere in the singer's range that, understandably, forces a certain "character" to emerge.) Around this pitch the singer is asked to invent vocal inflections (pitch changes, vocal techniques, etc.) that express the intent or meaning of the text. The singer is guided always in the vocal inflections by a harmony, explicit in the orchestration, and in come cases by a specific set of alternate pitches. Apart from these technical limitations and apart from the trial and error process of what is agreed on as proper or correct, the singer is entirely free to invent the vocal character. So, the written melodies (which I think are obvious to the listener) are only a part of the vocal characterization. Equally important are the decisions made by the singer in practice and in rehearsal and in the spontaneous inventions unique to this recording.
— Robert Ashley, August 1994

"eL/Aficionado" is a group of scenes from the life of an “agent.” The scenes are a kind of “debriefing” to a jury of Interrogators, in which the Interrogators (chorus) challenge the Agent (soloist) in various forms of musical dialogue. The mood of the opera owes much to our fascination with espionage and with the character of those people who lead double lives.

A simple description, in code.

"My Brother Called"
The Agent has been instructed to go to a cafe overlooking the entrance to a building where “the department” maintains a safe-house or meeting place. He receives a telephone call in the cafe. He is instructed to watch the building and to describe in code every person that enters. The code takes the form of newspaper “personals” (repeated throughout by the Interrogators, from the record.) As part of his statement the agent describes the mysterious apartment. My Brother Called, told in the present about an incident in the immediate past, is interrupted successively by two other scenes, each enacted further in the past, and finally by a scene of direct confrontation between the Agent and his Interrogators.

"A Simple Border Crossing"
The Agent is challenged to reconstruct the events of his first assignment. In this assignment (apparently as a test of his training, the facts of which he recounts) he is instructed to go to a building unknown to him and there to cope with a “surprise” (which is described as a test of “the business of staying alive.”) Even while in watchfulness for “the surprise” he must memorize (in code, to be repeated as part of his assignment) every room he passes through in this “labyrinth.” The scene is an antiphonal presentation of the narrative in two moods: the Agent, serious and perhaps naive, against the subtle sarcasm of the Interrogators, who apparently know the story from the inside.

"An Answer Is Expected"
The Agent recounts the climax of a bizarre assignment to interrogate a child (“find out something about him”), who is being held in a remote safehouse by a mysterious couple with a dog. The child has the resources of an occult power. He eludes the Agent’s approaches and invokes the occult power to end the examination. The Interrogators swear the Agent to a lifetime of secrecy about this assignment. (“If we may be somewhat dramatic, you should take it to your grave.”) The scene is a continuous duet between the Agent and the chorus of Interrogators.

"Viva’s Boy"
The story told in My Brother Called is interrupted, finally, by a direct questioning of the Agent’s language and skills. We learn something about the codes and about the Agent’s understanding of his job, but nothing is resolved.

I am indebted to “Blue” Gene Tyranny for his work throughout the development of eL/Aficionado both as a singer and as a pianist, and to him and to Joseph Kubera as pianists in the concert version of the work that was performed for three years prior to finishing the electronic orchestra.
— Robert Ashley

"eL/Aficionado" was commissioned by Mutable Music Productions for Thomas Buckner. The quartet of operas, "Now Eleanor’s Idea," which includes
"eL/Aficionado," was written and developed with the assistance of grants from The Rockefeller Foundation (1984) and the National Endowment for the Arts’ Opera Musical Theater Program (1985).

Digital mastering by Allan Tucker at Foothill Digital, New York City.
Libretto edited by Mimi Johnson.
Art Direction and Design: Nancy Foote, By Design.

Copyright © Robert Ashley, 1993
Visibility Music Publishers, BMI

All rights reserved.
Printed in USA.
LCD 1004 DDD

© 1993 Robert Ashley / Lovely Music

CD 1004