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  • Scott Williamson

Art and Life


As another tribute and thank you to our fabulous OR Tosca "team," here is a new poem, in an early draft form. It's a version of Tosca's famous aria from Act II of the opera, and as will be obvious to all who know the aria, my poem is a "version" inspired by the aria, the opera, and our production, and is not even an attempt at a "translation."

V’issi d’arte (for Em and the OR Tosca team, October 2017)

Art is life

is short art

is long I

loved all that

lived secrets like

these wine-dark

eyes faith-pure

as petals floating

in summer shoals

like my songs

to you those

psalms of pain

lamentations cantatas hymns

method prayers oh

gods smile on

us before you

take away another

voice our gift

my art life

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Rosemary Laing: greenwork (aerial wall), 1995, digital print in "Outside Eyes", Taubman Museum

This is also another thank you to our fabulous Apprentice Artists, Molly Cox, Emily Gwendolyn, Abby Head, Brenna Dudley who joined me in the Taubman Museum of Art galleries during our Tosca production. They shared their beautiful voices and site-specific, one-of-a-kind, performance-art renditions of Puccini arias and the classic "flower duet" from Lakmé. I shared my gratitude at being included in the TMA's current exhibit mentioned above. I was asked to give an "Outside Eyes" perspective on Laing's striking digitally manipulated print of woods in her native Australia, and share the accompanying text I wrote for the exhibit below (click on the Adams title for a link to the music paired with the image):

"The American composer John Adams (b. 1947) has said the opening of his 1985 symphony, Harmonielehre (“Harmony Lesson”) came from a dream. A single e-minor chord, “discharged like cannon fire” and repeated some 40 times was inspired by the image of a tanker lifting out of the San Francisco Bay and launching “like a rocket.” Like greenwork, where variations on the singular, striking central color suffuse the landscape, the rhythm, voicing, and texture of Harmonielehre spread out across a vast sonic space. “Stasis in motion” or “movement through stillness” describes both Laing’s monolithic “aerial wall” and the dream-picture Adams painted in his landmark orchestral canvas. When I look at Laing’s visionary manipulation of color and space I hear the brilliant shaping of a single chord in Harmonielehre." (Scott Williamson, DMA, Artistic Director, Opera Roanoke; Guest Curator of Music, Taubman Museum of Art)

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I hope you will check out the TMA's fascinating exhibit, which also includes commentary from colleagues like our friend, the renowned conductor of the Roanoke Symphony, Maestro David Stewart Wiley. Also on view is an engaging exhibit of sculptures and installations by Paul Villinski. I was taken with his homage to moths and butterflies (its title refers to those who study such chrysalis-breaking shape-shifters), called "Lepidopterist":

Vallinski's work brought to mind other instances of "outside eyes" perspectives. The "academic" term for this is from the greek, "ekphrasis" (= art about art: like a painting about another painting, or a poem about a painting, or an opera about artists and/or music, etc...)

I have had "moth art" in mind over the last few years, ever since hearing the BBC Proms premiere of Sir Harrison Birtwistle's Moth Requiem, a single-movement, 20-minute work in Latin for women's voices, 3 flutes and 3 harps. Inspired by an incident he and his librettist shared about the sounds of moths flittering eerily inside an old piano, the work is striking, engaging, and entirely typical of its acclaimed composer's recent works. It is at once strange and colorful, bizarre and captivating, emerging out of a tradition with unexpected results... One could say the same about Thomas Adès, whose fantastic and surrealist new opera, The Exterminating Angel is next up at the MET Live in HD series. More there soon.

I thought of Birtwistle's music when I encountered this line of Carl Phillips's haunting and sensual poem, "Blow it Back" (in the October 2017 issue of Poetry magazine). Carl's poem finds a creature which could be out of Birtwistle's naturalist one act drama: a moth that’s trapped there, / unharmed, gone free -

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Grazie & bravi tutti to all my friends and colleagues, from Tosca and the Taubman, to fellow performers, poets, and artists everywhere. May we all find inspiration in each other's work, and in the traditions we try to continue and honor, while we try to rejuvenate them... To paraphrase Mahler - tradition means to tend the fire rather than reverence the ashes...


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