A new Jazz Metal Opera from The Metropolitan Opera's Will Berger and Metal Band Kilter

By: Mar. 11, 2024
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William Berger

Will Berger is a renaissance man on a mission.  When he's not lecturing on classical music and opera, or writing the commentaries for the Metropolitan Opera Radio on Sirius, or co-hosting the live Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts, or producing (and writing) the broadcasts' Met Opera Quiz, or writing books (Wagner Without Fear (1998), Verdi With a Vengeance (2000), Puccini Without Excuses (2005), all published by Random House) he's writing the libretto for a new Jazz Metal Opera!  

His newest creation will be having a full concert performance next week at Nublu in the East Village.  In between all of his myriad responsibiilities, Mr. Berger found a few minutes to sit with Opera to discuss LA SUSPENDIDA.

Tell us about the project’s genesis.  How did it come together?

It was Andromeda’s idea. She’s a classically trained singer, a coloratura soprano, with a background in jazz and cabaret singing who has since moved into extreme metal vocals – and she is at home with all of these. So she wanted an opera that would embrace the full range of her artistry – that’s what dictated what the musical form would be. Laurent and discussed various sci fi stories, but they couldn’t find one that was both a love story and a disturbing piece of near-horror… in other words, both authentically opera and authentically metal.  Laurent found this weird story from history and was immediately struck by its operatic and metal possibilities. Then they met me, over zoom, in fact, during COVID. They asked me if I thought there was an opera in the story, and I said “yes, but only if it’s told from HER point of view [that is, the dead woman, who is being used as a sex object by her necrophiliac doctor]. And they all said “that’s what we thought too.” And then they asked me to write it, and I did, sitting with Laurent and Ed and sometimes Andromeda at a table, and the shape of the piece seemed to dictate itself in an almost ghostly way! 


Tell us about your collaborators (Kilter) and their backgrounds.   

Laurent had a vision of creating a jazz metal trio in France. But he couldn’t find anyone in France who he felt was equally committed to both jazz and metal. He came to New York specifically to find collaborators – he was a fan of John Zorn, and he figured this would be the most likely milieu to find that – and he did. He found Kenny Grohowsky, who has an almost legendary list of credentials in both worlds, and Kenny led him to Ed, who also had a heavy background in jazz and metal and, additionally, classical. For this project, the connections to Seven)Suns (a metal/classical string quartet) and the Growlers Choir of Montreal (as the name suggests, a heavy metal choral group mostly composed of what I like to call “gifted conservatory students gone bad”) grew out of those initial connections.

What exactly is Jazz Metal?  

It is music that comes from metalheads in a jazz band who use systems of metal music (harmonies, rhythms, tones, et al.) to compose. Jazz can be composed and remain authentic – it does not all have to be improvised, always. Jazz can be a way of composing, in fact. That is what we are aiming for in Kilter.

Have you invented a revolutionary new form of music or is it something that’s out there flying under the radar?

There are forms out there that use systems of both jazz and metal, in many different ways. What we are doing in our own way is taking the possibilities of these 3 instruments (bass, bass saxophone, and drums) and expressing our own personal eclectic range of interests through them in these perhaps unexpected forms. 

Previews: LA SUSPENDIDA - A JAZZ METAL OPERA at Nublu The source material is very interesting, can you tell us a little about it?

The story comes from history and then quickly became legend and pop culture: A young woman from Cuba went to Key West to be treated for tuberculosis, and died there. One of the people caring for her, a doctor (or pseudo-doctor) named Tanzler, himself a refugee, was obsessed with her and believed her to be the ideal woman promised to him in a vision. He kept her body and had sex with it for years until he was discovered, at which point there was actually no law to prosecute him for this transgression because no one had ever thought to write one (there is now – even in Florida). So he never served time, and in fact some people say he managed to recover Maria Elena’s (the dead girl in question) body and live with it until he himself died a decade or so later. It was a running story in the nourish pulp magazines of the time.

Did you actually write a book based on it?

Not quite… I have put together a booklet which contains the libretto of the opera, a prose story of it as a background, with a parallel narrative of the journalistic account of the actual events, a personal essay about how this project came together and the issues involved in it for each of us, and some biography of the collaborators. I highly recommend it!  

Is this your first attempt at writing a libretto?

No, but it is my first complete set to music and put on the stage. I have a couple of other projects in process right now, in fact, and previously have written segments – including fragments in Italian!


 Can you give us a brief summary of the plot?

María Elena, a beautiful 21-year-old divorcee from Cuba, dies of tuberculosis in Key West. As the sun rises along the Atlantic coast, Shades of the realm of Death call forth the souls of all who died overnight in The Americas to enter the eternal Gates. María Elena thanks them for the invitation but prefers to remain outside the Gates, suspended between realms of Life and Death. They insist she enter, but she utilizes fresh infusions of seed from Tanzler, the doctor who treated her, to remain where she is: Tanzler's sexual obsession with her didn't die when she did, and now his acts of necrophilia empower her to claim her own realm. She explains that Tanzler once had a dream-visitation from his grandmother, a Countess who died before he was born: she promised to create an ideal woman for him. When he met María Elena years later, he instantly recognized her as the Promised Ideal. As he loved her before she was born, now he loves her after she’s died. Unseen, he infuses María Elena once again with seed, to the indignant disgust of the Shades. Their arrogance triggers her rage, and she makes them watch her dominate Tanzler into sexual service. The encounter proves too much for Tanzler, who dies as he climaxes. María Elena is deflated to hear his name called in the next roll call of the newly dead, knowing she has lost her powers. The Dead console her: there is no shame in joining them now that she has had her moment of complete self-determination. She moves toward the Gates, accepting death like everyone else

 Is there a cast album?

Oh yes, available by Silent Pendulum Records, in CD or Vinyl LP format! Link to follow.

Previews: LA SUSPENDIDA - A JAZZ METAL OPERA at Nublu Who is in the cast?                                                ANDROMEDA ANARCHIA, a New York-based singer, composer, lyricist and producer from Switzerland.  Andromeda started out as a classically trained soprano (Konservatorium Winterthur in Switzerland with Tenor Paul Steiner; advanced training with Mezzo-Soprano Margo Weiskam from Berlin, Germany) but did not want to become a traditional opera singer. Andromeda switched to contemporary singing, first to jazz (Jazzschule Zurich with Renata Friederich, and additional training with Efrat Alony at Jazzschule Bern), then to heavy metal and extreme metal (Training with Mark B. Lay, Soren Sedit and Mateusz Sibilia) and even to cabaret music.  Since the age of five, Andromeda  has written her own music, mostly in the form of songs, but also compositions for instrumental music.  She is currently the lead singer and frontwoman of the internationally acclaimed operatic black metal band FOLTERKAMMER and as the producer of the prog rock/art song project DARK MATTERS

Previews: LA SUSPENDIDA - A JAZZ METAL OPERA at Nublu Growlers Choir

The first growlers choir in history. Composed solely of metal vocalists called “growlers”, Growlers Choir blends Metal and experimental music in a way that is unique and groundbreaking. Hailing from Montreal, Canada, one of the world’s capitals of Metal music, the 13 metal vocalists ensemble was dreamt up by composer Pierre-Luc Senécal in 2016. What may have been a wild fantasy for many Metalheads was finally brought to fruition in May 2019, when the band took the stage for their first public performance. Their first piece, the mythical “The Dayking”, triggered a frenzy of ecstatic comments, calling it “masterfully arranged”, “mindblowing”, “a ritual of summoning demons from the other dimensions”, a descent “into literal unbridled chaos”. This success was in no small part due to the lead speaker of the piece, Fortner Anderson. Pioneer of the spoken word scene in Montreal, his reading of his text “The Dayking” has been described as dramatically poignant, visceral and riveting. Growlers Choir has since dedicated itself to producing ambitious concerts, creating bewitching music and exploring vocal techniques.


Seven Suns

A string quartet that plays dystopian music rooted in the language of avant-Metal and Hardcore. Their repertoire is drawn from works by members of the group, re-imagined string quartet versions of Metal and Hardcore songs, as well as music from the Western art music tradition.  SEVEN)SUNS has played diverse venues such as New York’s Terminal 5, The Gallery at Le Poisson Rouge, Saint Vitus Bar, The Cell Theater, Firehouse Space, Shapeshifter Lab, and The Knitting Factory. In addition to sharing the bill and touring with such Metal bands such as Candiria, Cellar Darling, Car Bomb, Empire Shall Fall, and Cleric, SEVEN)SUNS has been presented by the Tribeca New Music Festival regularly over the years and has twice been awarded a residency at the prestigious Avaloch Farm Music Institute. SEVEN)SUNS did a cover Pantera’s “This Love/Domination” and a cover of The Dillinger Escape Plan’s “43% Burnt”. The videos received over 100,000 views combined and led to features on numerous heavy metal websites such as Metal Injection,, and, among others. This led to a collaboration with The Dillinger Escape Plan. SEVEN)SUNS is prominently featured on their final album Dissociation (2016), and performed with them on their now-legendary final show in New York in 2017. SEVEN)SUNS received a generous grant from the Brooklyn Arts Council to write and perform a piece titled “Songs of the Voiceless” based on visits to Rikers Island Correctional Facility in New York City.

What can audiences expect next Tuesday?

Judging from workshop performances in NY, Montreal, and Paris, we can assure audiences that a wide variety of people have had surprisingly strong, deeply personal reactions to this piece. We hope that they will fall into a different perception of time – and may people have told us this is exactly what they experienced. But above all, we are aiming for emotional catharsis. We may have started out to write a creepy, weird piece… but when we say it took a life of its own, we found it turned into something much, much more profound and even edifying than this. It’s about empowerment, and acceptance, ultimately. And we believe people can expect that – each in their own way. wants to thank Will Berger for taking a break from his busy schedule to chat with us and we wish him success on his performance this coming week.

ASM Presents: La Suspendida "a jazz metal opera"


151 Loisaida Ave, New York, NY 10009, USA

Tue, Mar 12, 8:00 PM  & 10PM


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