Various Artists

Europera, Vol. 5

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The challenge of Cage's 4'33," the renowned "silent piece," is how to unintentionally divide or distinguish something (silence) that is by its very nature indivisible and without distinctions. The challenge of "Europeras 1 and 2" (1986-1987) can be seen as the opposite: to take the mythologized, linear, dramatic, pre-composed, and culturally inherited material of the European opera, and then "distinguish all the elements of theater... (in order to) ventilate people's heads" (Cage). In Cage's solution, each element is treated as a center, and the piece as a whole becomes a system of interpenetration and non-obstruction. All of the independent elements -- arias, orchestral music, tape music, stage action and blocking, sets, props, lighting, costumes, and even program notes -- are modified by chance operations utilizing a computer program that simulates coin tosses of the I Ching. Singers are lifted and carried by assistants or flown into the air with harnesses; props include a giant bubble machine, coffin, garbage can, igloo, jeep, mynah bird, and zeppelin; costumes (from a 14-volume encyclopedia) have nothing to do with roles. Although fantastic, this piece is not an opera parody, but introduces new moods, states of awareness, and an almost Cubist overview of freely interrelating, culturally charged material. "Europeras 3, 4, and 5" continue the idea that guided "Europeras 1 and 2," which required an entire opera company, symphony orchestra, and complex staging. "Europeras 3 and 4" (1987) are for a more modest ensemble of two singers, pianist, gramophone, and "Truckera" tape. "Europera 5" (1991) has parts for a pianist, two singers, Victrola, sound designer/performer (operating an offstage radio), and lighting director/performer. The performers are stationed on stage within a grid according to chance operations. They each choose arias, piano arrangements, and Victrola recordings from operatic repertoire. [An excerpt from "Europera 5" can be heard on Musicworks No. 52, a collection of first releases of Cage's works.]