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Pittsburgh Opera to Premiere IN A GROVE, A Co-Production With LA Opera


LA Opera will present the west coast premiere of In a Grove in a future season.

Pittsburgh Opera to Premiere IN A GROVE, A Co-Production With LA Opera

GRAMMY-nominated composer and Pulitzer Prize finalist Christopher Cerrone's new opera In a Grove, featuring a libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann, will receive its world premiere performances by Pittsburgh Opera from February 19 - March 3, 2022. Commissioned by the Los Angeles Opera with additional support from Raulee Marcus and Stephen Block, Pittsburgh Opera, and Metropolis Ensemble, In a Grove is based on a short story of the same name by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and 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.

Sited within a ghost forest in the Pacific Northwest in 1922, the opera unfolds within a barren, haunted landscape devastated by wildfire. 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 driven by class struggle and fear of the other, this retelling of Akutagawa's tale-famously adapted as the film Rashomon-manifests a world in which the environment is under siege, and wildly veering personal truths vie with absolute fact, shattering what one thinks they know.

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. Electronic vocal processing will be used as characters speak for others, altering the facts, whether via blurrings of memory or intention. 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."

The shifting viewpoints of Akutagawa's classic short story lend themselves eloquently to music's ability to conjure, via repetition and variation, the ways human perception is fallible, imprecise, and subject 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 dynamic new adaptation 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.

Director Mary Birnbaum's concept for In a Grove takes inspiration from James Turrell and Fujiko Nakaya, artists whose work renders subtle changes in perception: Viewers will enter a space already activated, via sound, light and fog - a tool used to obscure, to manipulate, perspicacity. Designed to inhabit a relatively intimate black box, the environment will feel as if it is progressively closing in around the audience, drawing them into the metaphysical space of the grove, a place where the ground shifts beneath their feet. This is a space of ambiguity and clarity, of beauty and menace, fragility and strength - in which a visceral sense of immediacy is amplified by the shifting psychic terrain and vast emotional space of the music.

Performance Information

Pittsburgh Opera Presents In a Grove
Saturday, February 19, 2022 at 8:00pm
Tuesday, February 22, 2022 at 7:00pm
Friday, February 25, 2022 at 7:30pm
Sunday, February 27, 2021 at 2:00pm
Tuesday, March 1, 2022 at 7:00pm
Thursday, March 3, 2022 at 7:30pm
Tickets: $25-50

Christopher Cerrone and Stephanie Fleischmann - In a Grove (2021) [World Premiere]

Commissioned by the Los Angeles Opera with additional support from Raulee Marcus and Stephen Block, Pittsburgh Opera, and Metropolis Ensemble.

Cast and Crew:
Woodcutter / The Outlaw (Luther Harlow): Yazid Gray*
Policeman / The Man (Ambrose Raines): Andrew Turner*
Leona Raines / Leona's Mother: Madeline Ehlinger*
Priest / Medium: Chuanyuan Liu+

Composer: Christopher Cerrone
Libretto: Stephanie Fleischmann
Conductor: Antony Walker
Stage Director: Mary Birnbaum+
Assistant Stage Director: Kaley Karis Smith*
Set Designer: Mimi Lien
Costume Designer: Oana Botez
Lighting Designer: Yuki Nakase
Stage Manager: Alex W. Seidel
Asst Stage Manager: Hannah Nathan

+ Pittsburgh Opera Debut
* Pittsburgh Opera Resident Artist

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