four singers (SCtTB), small ensemble (six to ten instrumentalists), and electronics
approximately 60 minutes—in progress
First workshop performance
Mahogany Opera Group, Various Stages Festival
February 24, 2017 at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London
Score and libretto available on request.
Contact directly to view a private link of the first twelve minutes.
an opera in one act (in progress)
libretto by: Stephanie Fleischmann
based on the short story by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa
A silent, waiting grove. A violent encounter between a Samurai and his wife and a notorious brigand. Seven testimonies, each offering up a different perspective on the crime. Inspired by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s eponymous short story, In a Grove is sited on the boundary between installation and chamber opera.
As the audience enters, the piece has already begun. The performers build the environment, which becomes a haunted temple to which the witnesses and perpetrators of the crime have come to reckon with the truth. The audience is complicit in this ritual, inhabiting a shared space with the performers that radically expands and contracts over the course of the work. As the work progresses, the temple opens up to reveal the grove, which now encompasses audience and performers alike.
Four singers play eight roles, each assuming the character of both witness and participant in the crime. Six instrumentalists also function as characters, each in concert with a different testimonial. Dispersed throughout the space and accompanied by electronics throughout, the instruments form the architecture of this world. As the testimonies unfold, singers and players shift the sonic terrain and the audience’s relationship to the drama.
The score is both lush and menacing, engendering an air of suspense. Testimonies overlay, evoking the imprecise nature of memory as musical ideas slip in and out of focus. The visual aesthetic is stripped down, verging on austere.
Each of the central characters claims responsibility for the crime. In the retelling of the events from multiple perspectives, the Samurai dies three times, as does Masago, the young woman at the heart of the story, who comes to the temple seeking refuge. Yet she who wants nothing more than to end her life cannot seem to die. She is destined to relive the events over and over again.
Our search for the truth remains as elusive today as when Akutagawa wrote “In a Grove” in 1922. In an age of alternative facts, exploring the possibilities of truth becomes all the more essential. Shifting from intimate to epic and back, In a Grove will be a powerfully unsettling, haunting experience designed to be both confounding and crystalline, disjunctive yet deeply emotional.
A highlight of ours was In a Grove, by Christopher Cerrone and Stephanie Fleischmann, which found a wise balance of electronic and acoustic sounds, and erred on the side of simple storytelling to pique our interest.Jenna Douglas, Schmopera.com
The music we heard was completely mesmeric, with a beautifully calm hypnotic quality.Robert Hugill, Planet Hugill