Roulette Presents A Revival Of Robert Ashley's Opera FOREIGN EXPERIENCES In May

The production will have a three-performance run, Thursday, May 9 through Saturday, May 11.

By: Mar. 25, 2024
Roulette Presents A Revival Of Robert Ashley's Opera FOREIGN EXPERIENCES In May
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This spring, Roulette will present a new production of Robert Ashley's opera Foreign Experiences. Last performed in its full version in 1995, this new production for seven voices and a prerecorded electronic orchestra will have a three-performance run, Thursday, May 9 through Saturday, May 11, at 8pm. This new production is co-produced by Roulette Intermedium and Performing Artservices.

Foreign Experiences is part of Now Eleanor's Idea, Robert Ashley's monumental opera tetralogy from the early 1990s. The other operas of the tetralogy are Improvement (Don Leaves Linda), eL/Aficionado, and the stand-alone opera Now Eleanor's Idea. Together, they form a kind of history of American consciousness.

After Ashley's death, his producer and widow, Mimi Johnson, made it her project to refurbish and revive these operas, featuring performers from the current generation. Tom Hamilton, a longtime associate of Ashley's, has updated the original recorded electronic orchestras that he and Ashley composed. Foreign Experiences is the third opera in the cycle to be given a new production; Improvement (Don Leaves Linda) was performed to critical acclaim at The Kitchen in 2019, followed by eL/Aficionado at Roulette in 2021.

Foreign Experiences follows Don, who leaves the Midwest to take a position at a small college in California. But everything goes wrong. He loses his family and friends. He loses his car. He fears that he will lose his mind. He lives alone in a small, cheap apartment near the campus where he cooks rice and vegetables in a single saucepan, drinks vodka, and reads books on esoteric subjects. In his madness and isolation Don concocts an elaborate plot to explain to himself the situation he is in. He remembers important and unbelievable premonitions. He confuses his past with the present. He imagines that he has been called to some secret purpose other than the work at the college and that this purpose will be revealed by a message that he finds in the “personals” of the local newspaper.

Paul Pinto assumes the greater part of Don's character in this production (originally performed by Sam Ashley); however, all of the opera's performers speak from Don's point of view, voicing his musings, thoughts, and dreams. The thought-provoking text is densely layered and extremely fast paced.

Unique to Ashley's work is a vocal technique in which he assigned a defining pitch to each character. Guided by a harmony or specific set of alternate pitches, the singers are asked to improvise around the pitch and invent vocal inflections that express the intent or meaning of the text. “The written melodies are only a part of the vocal characterization,” Ashley explained. “Equally important are the decisions made by the singer in practice and in rehearsal and in the spontaneous inventions unique to [each performance].” The result is a hyper-dense score propelled by lush live voices, at times tense and suspenseful, at other times deeply lyrical and moving.

Foreign Experiences (1994)

Music and libretto by Robert Ashley

Music direction by Tom Hamilton

Lighting and stage design by David Moodey

Performed by Gelsey Bell, Kayleigh Butcher, Bonnie Lander, Brian McCorkle, Paul Pinto, Dave Ruder, and Aliza Simons

Sound design and live mix by Tom Hamilton

Produced by Mimi Johnson/Performing Artservices, Inc.


Roulette is located at 509 Atlantic Avenue (corner of Third Avenue), Brooklyn, NY 11217. Tickets for Foreign Experiences are $30 in advance, $35 at the door, and can be purchased online at: Roulette box office: (917) 267-0368. Please note that the box office opens one hour prior to performances.

About the Artist

Robert Ashley (1930-2014) is known for his groundbreaking work in new forms of opera. In Ann Arbor in the 1960s, Ashley organized the ONCE Festival and directed the legendary ONCE Group, with whom he developed his first operas. Throughout the 1970s, he directed the Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College and toured with the Sonic Arts Union. He produced and directed Music with Roots in the Aether, a 14-hour television opera/documentary about the work and ideas of seven American composers. His opera for television, Perfect Lives, is widely considered the precursor of “music television.” Stage versions of Perfect Lives, Atalanta (Acts of God), Improvement (Don Leaves Linda), Foreign Experiences, eL/Aficionado, and Now Eleanor's Idea toured throughout the US, Canada, Europe, and Asia during the 1980s and 1990s. Dust, followed by Celestial Excursions and The Old Man Lives in Concrete toured from 1999 to 2012. He finished his last two operas, Crash and Quicksand, in 2013. Crash was presented as part of the 2014 Whitney Biennial; The Kitchen presented Quicksand in early 2016. For more information, visit

About Roulette:

Founded in 1978 by four artists in a TriBeCa loft in NYC, Roulette has grown into an internationally recognized performing arts venue and presenter of experimental music, dance, and intermedia featuring some of today's most prolific artists and their extraordinary emerging counterparts. Roulette presents 120 annual performances alongside an additional 150 community/rental events, serving up to 70,000 annual visitors in its12,000-square-foot venue in Downtown Brooklyn. In addition to its robust in-person and virtual live programming, Roulette presents a monthly podcast, weekly and monthly radio shows, and weekly segments on Manhattan and Brooklyn public access TV. Roulette's mission is to support artists creating new and adventurous art in all disciplines by providing them with a venue and resources to realize their creative visions, and to build an audience interested in the evolution of experimental art.


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