Atalanta (Acts of God)
An Opera by Robert Ashley
Recorded Live at the Teatro Olimpico, Rome, in English and Italian
Robert Ashley / Thomas Buckner / Jacqueline Humbert
Carla Tatò / “Blue” Gene Tyranny / Paul Shorr
EPISODE I: MAX
Odalisque, Character Reference, Anecdote & Chorale: “No, Never, No”
EPISODE II: WILLARD
Odalisque, Character Reference, Anecdote & Chorale: “You’ve Got To Hold Me Tighter (Yeah)”
EPISODE III: BUD
Odalisque, Character Reference, Anecdote & Chorale: “Giving Love Away”
Thomas Buckner, Jacqueline Humbert, “Blue” Gene Tyranny
Carla Tatò with Jacqueline Humbert
Robert Ashley, Thomas Buckner, Jacqueline Humbert, Carla Tatò, “Blue” Gene Tyranny
Voices: Robert Ashley, Thomas Buckner, Jacqueline Humbert, Carla Tatò
Solo keyboards with electronics: “Blue” Gene Tyranny
Live mixing and orchestral electronics: Paul Shorr
Stage direction and lighting: Lawrence Brickman
Costumes and make-up: Jacqueline Humbert
Pre-recorded chorales in all three anecdotes: Rebecca Armstrong and David Van Tieghem, voices; Paul Shorr, engineer
Born to a royal family, Atalanta, because she is a girl-child, is put out into the wild. Raised by the “animals,” she becomes strong and independent and a legend, among other accomplishments, as the fastest running human. When she has acquired such fame, her father reclaims her in order to marry her off and broaden his political base. Her requirement: the suitor has to beat her in a race, with awful consequences if he loses. Many lose. Hippomenes, desperately in love, but fully aware of her excellence, goes to his goddess, Aphrodite, for help and is given a strategy involving three golden apples to divert Atalanta during the race. He wins. She is so taken with him that they stop in a temple on the way home to consummate the marriage. Unfortunately, the temple is Aphrodite’s (who has been tricked, as part of this whole affair, by another goddess) and she is so angry that she transforms them both into leopards—presumably, because leopards were thought to be, like mules, unable to reproduce their kind—in order that their days together shall be spent in fruitless lust.
ATALANTA (ACTS OF GOD) picks up the story centuries later. The leopard curse is still in force. She is the Odalisque, languorous after her exertions, in the inner sanctum of the harem, where she rests and has her privacy, attended only by musicians and other harmless types. The “successful suitor” now has three forms (reminding us of the essence of his successful strategy), and these three forms are dramatized both in the persons with whom she chooses to share the privacy of the oda and in a recounting of the three aspects of the character of a man a great woman might choose as her companion. These three aspects of character are presented in the opera as anecdotes about three, extraordinary men of our times: Max Ernst (surrealist painter), Willard Reynolds (shaman storyteller) and Bud Powell (composer pianist.) Not coincidentally, since the opera is devoted to her story—it is her opera—the genius of these three man can be taken to represent three aspects of the opera itself: image, narrative and music.
The setting of ATALANTA (ACTS OF GOD) is the oda. One companion reminds her of her excellence (the Odalisque arias.) Another recommends characteristics of excellence in men (the Character Reference arias.) The third amuses her—diverts her—with anecdotes, as if told to her by each of the three men (the Anecdotes.)
ATALANTA (ACTS OF GOD) is an opera in three Episodes. The music and texts are composed in the form of anecdotes, or moral fables. Three principal anecdotes are given to the solo voices in the sections called “Anecdote.” This is the “core” of the opera and can be performed separately as a concert work (SONGS FROM ATALANTA.) The principal anecdotes are surrounded by minor anecdotes recorded on tape and/or performed live in different versions of the work, depending on the performance resources available. In this performance the “Anecdotes” are surrounded by, (1) the Odalisque songs (in Italian); (2) the Character References (in Italian); (3) the Headlines (in Italian).
The “Anecdotes”, both in their vocal and instrumental forms, are performed in the spirit of “divine inspiration”, or heedlessness. In this method, which differs fundamentally from what might be termed “improvisation,” the characters of the opera are invoked, sometimes, in the process of their being depicted. In other words, “magic” is allowed as a reality.
Technically, the method requires at many points in the performance that every performer begins anew, as a soloist, with her/his contribution to an evolving ensemble situation, but independently, and without foreknowledge of the intentions of the other members of the ensemble. Thus, an enormous variety of ensemble sounds and moods are discovered, and these discoveries are, in a sense, dedicated to (if not influenced by) the people the opera is about.
The “Anecdote”, in its score-form may be interpreted musically according to the following instructions:
The synchronization of the various parts, both musical and visual, is based on a tempo of 72 beats per minute. Thus, each line of the vocal score represents a duration of four beats at 72 per minute (4 beats x 9 lines = 36 beats per page = 30 seconds at 72 beats per minute.)
The synchronization of the line of text to the four beats is very free. The positioning of the typed line on the page implies no accents or total duration of the line as actually sung.
Each 2 minute 30 second unit of the “Anecdote” is concluded by (interrupted by) a repeated “admonition,” directed at the idea of the character of the subject of the Episode. The Admonition is followed by a 30 second setting of a phrase from the “love song” associated with the meaning of the text of the Episode.
The “Headlines”, in Italian, (written for and dedicated to the first performance in Rome in collaboration with Carla Tatò and Carlo Quartucci) may be sung at any tempo, but the performance of the text of each 30 second unit (when the Headlines are used in a performance) may not begin until the first sound of the Headline has been sung.
The single-line statements in the Odalisque arias may be sung either on an eight-beat or on a four-beat measure (at 72 beats per minute.) The Odalisque text is accompanied by an improvisation, in the instrumental parts, on the “love song” associated with each Episode.
The Character Reference arias are sung as “prose” statements within the format of the “love song” associated with each Episode.
ATALANTA (ACTS OF GOD), whose theme is “architecture”, is the first part of a trilogy of narrative works (“operas”), of which PERFECT LIVES, whose theme is “agriculture”, is the second part, and NOW ELEANOR’S IDEA, whose theme is “genealogy”, is part three.
Orchestral parts (on tape) were commissioned by the Trisha Brown Dance Company, and various mixes of those parts are currently used for the dance, “Son of Gone Fishin’”, by Trisha Brown.
The creation of the three principal anecdotes was made possible with the support of the Festival d’Automne à Paris, Josephine Markovits, Music Director.
The Odalisque section of ATALANTA (ACTS OF GOD) was commissioned (originally for orchestra and voice) by the Arch Ensemble (Berkeley, California), Robert Hughes and Thomas Buckner, Music Directors, with the support of a National Endowment for the Arts Consortium Commissioning Grant.
The principal anecdote in the third Episode, BUD, is adapted from an anecdote told by Daniel Filipacchi.
Original orchestra tracks were derived from the “Palace” organ, courtesy of Gulbransen, CBS Musical Instruments, a division of CBS, Inc. Additional orchestra tracks recorded from the Gulbransen Equinox Musicomputer and the Prophet 600.
ATALANTA (ACTS OF GOD), in its complete version, was commissioned for performances produced by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, in 1985, under a program developed and curated by Nancy Hoyt. This work was made possible with grants from the Inter-Arts Program of the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency.
Thanks to other performers of ATALANTA (ACTS OF GOD) who have included Peter Gordon, Kurt Munkacsi, Jill Kroesen, David Van Tieghem, Sam Ashley, Christian Rist, Ions Dengler, Marjorie Merrick, Peg Ahrens, and Big Black.
This recording was engineered by Piero Schiavoni (Amplificazione Wonderland, Roma) from the live mix by Paul Shorr at the Teatro Olimpico, Rome, Italy, March 9th, 1985.
The Rome performance was produced by Camion (Carlo Quartucci, Director), with the collaboration of la Regione Siciliana, l’Ente Provinciale Turismo di Trapani, la S.B.P., the Berliner Kunstlerprogramm—DAAD, the Biennale de Paris, and funding from the Province of Rome.
Mastered by Nicholas Prout and Allan Tucker, Foothill Digital Productions
Art Direction and Design: By Design
Copyright © 1985 Robert Ashley (BMI)
Music published by Visibility Music Publishers (BMI)
© P 1985, 1997 Lovely Music, Ltd.
Dedicated to Dorothea Tanning—An Excellent Woman
LCD 3301–2 Stereo ADD