Tickets On Sale Today For Cerise Jacobs Video Game Opera
Tickets go on sale today for the latest brainchild of creator and librettist Cerise Jacobs, the video game opera PermaDeath. Hailed by Opera magazine as "intrepid and artistically ambitious," Jacobs is quickly establishing a body of original operatic work that blends two of her great passions, myth and technology, in compelling and relevant contemporary stories. PermaDeath, her most technologically sophisticated work to date, premieres at Boston's Cutler Majestic Theater from September 27-29. The libretto was co-written with Jacobs's son Pirate Epstein, founder of the video game company SqueePlay and a former New England Halo champion, and composed by Dan Visconti, perhaps best known in the opera world as the composer of Opera Philadelphia's recent Andy Warhol-themed ANDY: A Popera. New York-based opera director Sam Helfrich, who helmed the first performances in New York of Péter Eötvös's Angels in America at New York City Opera last year, directs, and the conductor is Daniela Candillari, who has worked with Bang on a Can Opera and recently conducted Gregory Spears's Fellow Travelers at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Jacobs's longtime collaborators Cori Ellison and Zane Pihlstrom serve as dramaturg and set/costume designer, respectively. PermaDeath is produced by White Snake Projects.
For the unique needs of this pioneering opera with a fictional "massively multi-player online" game (MMO) at its center, Jacobs turned to a host of unusual collaborators. Though the game is not playable, the characters, animation, and important aspects of its technology are being developed in Unreal Engine, a powerful game engine capable of rendering in real time. For that part of the project Jacobs turned to two institutions that lead the world in design and video game development: Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Becker College. Participants in the project included Mary Jane Begin, Senior Critic and Adjunct Professor at RISD; Paul Cotnoir, Ph.D., Associate Dean of the School of Design and Technology at Becker College; and Curvin Huber, the opera's Digital Content Designer and Professor of Interactive Design at Becker College, along with various groups of their students. Led by Adjunct Professor Ryan Canuel, the Becker collaborators are also developing a custom-built app for PermaDeath, available at Google Play or the Apple App Store, which allows the audience to engage with the characters in the game, exploring their mythology and attributes as well as the landscape in which they move. Another critical technological component of the opera is Faceware, a facial-motion capture technology Huber and his team have customized to render the singers' face and lip movements in real time so that their avatars mimic the live singing.
While the technology looks forward, the fictional game at the heart of PermaDeath is populated by figures from Greek mythology, including Apollo, Artemis, Adonis, Aphrodite, and Niobe, along with a pig sidekick named MiniB. The human world is represented by a 20-something gaming champion named Sonny - sung by soprano Rachele Gilmore, whose voice has been praised for "enormous vocal power, depth of feeling and beauty of tone" (Miami Herald) and whose A-flat above high C at the Met in 2009 is the second-highest note ever sung on that stage (supplanted, alas, just last year). Offline, Sonny is grappling with the early stages of ALS; though still able to stand under her own control, she has begun using a wheelchair and is dealing with pain and motor control loss. Her avatar, Apollo, proves to have a mind of his own, and altruistically encourages Sonny to make a high-stakes decision: to enter a "Tournament of Death" for a $3 million prize that would allow her to pay for increasingly needed care, but which risks "permadeath" for him; if they lose she will never be able to use him again, sacrificing one of her closest companions. This story plays out on many levels: the worldly reality of a perilously mortal and declining human, the operatic stage, the realm in which the video game takes place, and an ancient mythological canvas where all stories are deceptively predetermined.
Jacobs's previous productions have been hits with critics and audiences alike. Last season's REV. 23, conceived by Jacobs as a comic addition to the decidedly un-comic Book of Revelation, was declared by La Scena Musicale to be "a privileged, early glimpse of the Apocalypse - and beyond - courtesy of resident visionary, opera-maker, and eschatologist nonpareil, Cerise Lim Jacobs," whose "literary and imaginative feracities are prodigious." Classical Voice North America praised composer Julian Wachner's "endlessly creative score." The Boston Musical Intelligencer left no doubt about the audience's reaction: "An eccentric vision of a world before the Beginning, REV. 23 received an eager standing ovation from an ecstatic audience."
To purchase tickets for PermaDeath at Boston's Cutler Majestic Theater, September 27-29, click here.
Photos: Cerise Jacobs (photo credit: James Daniel) ; Dan Visconti (photo credit: SnoStudios Photography)