Two years of multidisciplinary, international collaboration will come to fruition in April as Southwestern University’s Sarofim School of Fine Arts presents the premiere of an original opera called The Color of Dissonance.

The opera is based on the correspondence between Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky, German artist Gabriele Münter and Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg in the period just before World War I. Their artistic collaboration played an important role in the development of modernism in Western music and art from 1911 to 1914.

The project began two years ago when faculty members in the Sarofim School of Fine Arts were brainstorming what could be done to commemorate the renovation and addition to the university’s Fine Arts Center.

“We wanted to create an original production that would bring music, theatre and art together,” said Kim Smith, associate professor of art history. “We cast about for times in history when music, theatre and art history came together, and this seemed like a natural fit.”

Smith helped write the libretto for the opera along with Sergio Costola, assistant professor of theatre, and Jason Hoogerhyde, assistant professor of music. Hoogerhyde also wrote the score for it. The three received funds to stage the production from a grant The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation gave Southwestern to help faculty members develop collaborative projects.

Smith said the title of the opera comes from references Schoenberg and Kandinsky made to “dissonance as the new consonance” in modern art and music.

Unlike more traditional stagings of operas, the setting of “The Color of Dissonance” will be created and continuously recreated during the performance by projected images, video and text, as well as by objects moved by dancers.

“Since this opera is about the development of modernism in the arts, we wanted to replace traditional ways of doing things with more modern ways,” Hoogerhyde said. “This will enable us to highlight the artwork in ways we couldn’t do with a traditional set.”

To help create the multimedia backdrops, the Southwestern faculty members turned to Jeff Burke, the executive director of the Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance at UCLA. Burke is collaborating with a team of Southwestern visual arts students on the backdrops.

Burke, Costola and Jared J. Stein, another assistant professor of theatre at Southwestern, recruited renowned Bulgarian choreographer and performance anthropologist Alexandar (“Sasha”) Iliev to direct the production. Burke, Costola, Stein and Iliev are all members of Fourthworld Theatre Projects, an international theatre company based out of New York.

“We needed a director with a strong vision who could bring the libretto to life,” Costola said. “Sasha has helped us incorporate pantomime, dance and other physical forms of theatre into the production. He also has helped us incorporate some theatrical techniques that were developed in Russia at the beginning of the 20th century. 

The cast for the performance will include two of Iliev’s students from the National Academy for Theatre and Film Arts in Sofia, Bulgaria. The full Southwestern Chorale and Southwestern Orchestra also will be part of the performance.

Hoogerhyde’s score for the opera, while written in a 21st century language, employs several quotations of, and homages to Schoenberg’s music. These references serve as catalysts for new musical directions throughout the opera’s five scenes.

The opera’s music will be brought to life by 100 performers, including the Southwestern Orchestra conducted by Lois Ferrari and the Southwestern Chorale conducted by Kenny Sheppard. Southwestern vocal faculty members Bruce Cain, Carol Kreuscher and Oliver Worthington will perform as soloists.

“The Color of Dissonance” will be performed in the Alma Thomas Theater on Friday, April 3, at 7 p.m.; Saturday, April 4, at 7 p.m.; and Sunday, April 5th at 3 p.m. Tickets are free for Southwestern students, faculty and staff. Tickets for the general public are $15 for adults, $12 for students and persons 63 and over, and $10 for youth 16 and under. Tickets may be purchased by calling the Southwestern University Box Office at 512-863-1378 from 1-5 p.m. Monday through Friday or by going to Group discounts are available.

In conjunction with the performance, Southwestern will hold a one-day symposium on Friday, April 3, in which specialists in German cultural, music and art history will provide historical context for the opera. The symposium was organized by Kim Smith, whose expertise is early 20th century art. Smith, Costola and Hoogerhyde will conclude the symposium with a session describing their development of the opera. Other lectures are as follows:

10:30 a.m.   “Occultism and the Creative Unconscious in Fin-de-Siècle Germany” − Corinna Treitel, Department of History, Washington University.

1:30 p.m.   “Münter and Kandinsky’s Masquerade of Modern Love” − Bibiana Obler, Department of Fine Arts and Art History, George Washington University.

2:30 p.m.  “The Air of Another Planet: Kandinsky, Schoenberg, and Stefan George’s Entrückung” − Severine Neff, Department of Music, University of North Carolina.

All lectures will be held in the Alma Thomas Theater. The symposium is free and open to the public.

Costola said they plan to record the opera and symposium for publication on the Web. They also plan to translate the opera into German and Russian by the end of the year.


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