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Pittsburgh Opera Presents The Online Premiere Of Christopher Cerrone & Stephanie Fleischmann's IN A GROVE

Commissioned by LA Opera, In a Grove is based on a story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa.

Pittsburgh Opera Presents The Online Premiere Of Christopher Cerrone & Stephanie Fleischmann's IN A GROVE

Pittsburgh Opera has released the online premiere of a produced, online version of In a Grove, by GRAMMY-nominated composer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Cerrone and librettist Stephanie Fleischmann.

The production-directed by Mary Birnbaum and conducted by Antony Walker-had its world premiere performances from February 19 to March 3, 2022 live in Pittsburgh. Described as "an opera that will linger long in my memory" (Opera News) and "alluringly and dramatically hypnotic" (Wall Street Journal), In a Grove was commissioned by the Los Angeles Opera with additional support from Raulee Marcus and Stephen Block, Pittsburgh Opera, and Metropolis Ensemble. Viewers can stream In a Grove for free at pittsburghopera.org/GroveVideo. Watch the trailer for In a Grove here.

Based on a short story of the same name by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, In a Grove follows seven witness testimonies to a murder, each clashing in perspective, offering a searing investigation into the impossibility and elusiveness of truth. LA Opera will present the West Coast premiere of In a Grove in a future season.

A silent, expectant grove is the scene for a fatal encounter between a man, a woman, and a thief. The shifting viewpoints of Akutagawa's classic short story, on which Rashomon was based, lend themselves eloquently to music's ability to conjure, via repetition and variation, the ways perception is colored by emotions and vulnerable to interference. Characterized by a subtle handling of timbre and resonance, composer Christopher Cerrone's music balances lushness and austerity, immersive textures and telling details. This haunting new adaptation, set in the aftermath of a wildfire in the Pacific Northwest, melds the dramatic impact and interiority of Cerrone's unique voice with librettist Stephanie Fleischmann's charged, poetic text to produce a powerful interrogation into how we see, hear, remember and believe.

Into a terrain of broken dreams, marred by violence and obfuscated by smoke, comes a young woman who upends conventional notions of gender and narratives of victimhood, claiming agency for herself. Transpiring within a frontier territory riven by class struggle and fear of the other, this feminist retelling of Akutagawa's tale manifests a world in which the environment is under siege, and wildly veering personal truths vie with absolute fact.

Mary Birnbaum's dynamic runway staging places the audience on either side of the playing space, so that every viewer's experience is unique. Four transformative performers inhabit eight roles, each becoming both witness and perpetrator. Fog enshrouds the space as each successive testimony plunges us into ever more fallible regions of the human heart, drawing the audience progressively deeper into the ghost forest that is the grove.

Four singers are double cast, each assuming the character of both witness to and participant in the crime. A medium communicates with the ghost of the victim, straddling the thin line between the living and the dead, with no more access to the truth than anyone else.

The Pittsburgh Opera cast includes Yazid Gray as The Woodcutter and The Outlaw (Luther Harlow), Andrew Turner as Policeman and The Man (Ambrose Raines), Madeline Ehlinger as Leona Raines and Leona's Mother, and Chuanyuan Liu as the Priest and the Medium. Nine instrumentalists, accompanied by a bed of site-reactive electronics, also function as characters, or facets of them, each in concert with a different testimonial.

Christopher Cerrone discovered Akutagawa's short story In a Grove in the fall of 2014 while beginning to research a follow-up to his 2013 opera, Invisible Cities, which was a 2014 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Music. He explains, "In Akutagawa's story, I found a complex and multifaceted tale where the whole notion of objective truth was impossible; we, the readers, are left to decide for ourselves what happened. I thought this story, with its unique structure, would make the perfect opera. The shifting perspectives and changing repetitions of a single event would allow me to use the language of music to create an opera where the events are told and retold in pristine emotional detail; where the shifting and faulty memory of characters can be reinforced by vocal distortion and reverb."

Cerrone continues, "Having been introduced to Stephanie Fleischmann's lyrical and impactful libretti, I enlisted her to join the project. She brought a new nuance and complexity to the story - coloring in the details of our characters' lives. Now set in the Pacific Northwest in the rubble of a wildfire, our adaptation - a feminist retelling - focuses on the tragedy of conflicting personal truths. Every main character confesses to the murder of a man named Ambrose (a nod to the American writer Ambrose Bierce, an inspiration to Akutagawa); it is their inability to communicate with one another that drives the engine of the opera's conflict. As the subsequent years have passed, our society feels at a precipice where basic facts can no longer be agreed upon. As a result, the tale of this opera feels increasingly urgent."


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