Meredith Monk: An interview about her recent opera, Atlas

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<ul><li><p>This article was downloaded by: [University of Chicago Library]On: 06 October 2014, At: 22:00Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK</p><p>Contemporary Music ReviewPublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:</p><p>Meredith Monk: An interview about her recent opera,AtlasLeslie LassetterPublished online: 20 Aug 2009.</p><p>To cite this article: Leslie Lassetter (1997) Meredith Monk: An interview about her recent opera, Atlas , Contemporary MusicReview, 16:1-2, 59-67, DOI: 10.1080/07494469700640071</p><p>To link to this article:</p><p>PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE</p><p>Taylor &amp; Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) containedin the publications on our platform. However, Taylor &amp; Francis, our agents, and our licensors make norepresentations or warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of theContent. Any opinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, andare not the views of or endorsed by Taylor &amp; Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon andshould be independently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable forany losses, actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoeveror howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use ofthe Content.</p><p>This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms &amp; Conditions of access and use can be found at</p><p></p></li><li><p>Contemporary Music Review, 1997, Vol. 16, Parts 1-2, pp. 59--67 Reprints available directly from the publisher Photocopying permitted by license only </p><p>9 1997 OPA (Overseas Publishers Association) Amsterdam B.V. Published in The Netherlands </p><p>by Harwood Academic Publishers Printed in India </p><p>Meredith Monk: An Interview about Her Recent Opera, Atlas Leslie Lassetter </p><p>Meredith Monk's Atlas was premiered in 1991 by the Houston Grand Opera. In an interview about the opera, Monk discusses her inspiration for the work: Alexandra David-Neel's book Magic and Mystery in Tibet; her usual creative process for developing a large-scale theatre piece (Quarry); how creating Atlas differed from her usual process; the landscape-inspired Facing North (a duet theatre piece) as a source for the "Arctic Bar" scene in Atlas; "Airport," a major scene complex with its "busy music"; the difficulty of staging 'U~tresher" and how the hay capes solved the problem; and her vocal style in "Hungry Ghost" and "The Oldest Man in the World." </p><p>KEY WORDS Contemporary opera, new music, extended vocal techniques, Atlas </p><p>Inspired by the travels of Alexandra David-Neel , Meredi th Monk (b. 1943) cre- ated Atlas, an opera in three parts, about a w o m an ' s life-quest f rom the yearnings of youth, through the maturing of adul thood, into the reflections of old age. Aurally, Atlas fills the ear with bewitching siren sounds, haunt ingly beautiful melismas, choral cacophonies, ethereal vocal sonorities, and exotic ins t rumental timbres. Visually, Atlas fills the stage wi th camels in the desert , a canteen in a f rozen nor th- ern land, exotic peoples who till the earth, and demons emerging f rom the dark. In wordless lyrics seasoned by a m i n i m u m of spoken text, the tale unfolds wi th humor, warmth, and adventure by means of Monk ' s "universal language" of gesture, sound, and movement . Mo n k speaks an aesthetic language of the heart, meant to bypass the intellect and speak direct ly to the soul. </p><p>Though Atlas is Monk ' s first large-scale theatre piece with a cont inuous musi- cal score, it is but one of at least seventeen musico-dramat ic works she has cre- ated. Two of these - an intimate d u e t piece, Facing North (1990), and The Ringing Place (1987) for chorus - are part ial ly incorpora ted into Atlas. 1 A m o n g the others, Quarry (1976) and Education of the Girlchild (1973) are the most acclaimed: Quarry received an Obie Award for Outs tanding Achievement , while Education of the Girlchild, a feminist rites-of-passage play, earned the First Prize in Musical Thea- tre at the 1975 Venice Biennale. In Vessel (1971) and Juice (1969), two of her earlier theatrical productions, Monk m o v e d her audience to different locations in lieu of changing sets on stage. In addi t ion to these theatrical presentations, Monk has wri t ten music for solo voice, choral ensemble, keyboard, film, video, and live performance. Her works are available on n u m e r o u s recordings. </p><p>1 Sections of Facing North appear in "Arctic Bar." The Ringing Place becomes the score for the majority of Atlas, Part III. </p><p>59 </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f C</p><p>hica</p><p>go L</p><p>ibra</p><p>ry] </p><p>at 2</p><p>2:00</p><p> 06 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>60 L. Lassetter </p><p>In Atlas, an adolescent gift, Alexandra, dreams of traveling to far-away places. Reaching adulthood, she gathers traveling companions and sets out on a life jour- ney, exploring exotic lands and cities until she reaches the spiritual realm of in- visible light. Later, as an old woman, she drinks coffee and reflects on her travels. Several scenes are dealt with in the following interview. Of those, "Long Shad- ows" (Part II) acts as an introductory scene to set up props for "Arctic Bar," which begins as the traveling companions enter to the amazed amusement of the locals. Two travelers play cards, several people dance, and a trio in big bearskin coats sings an off-beat style of popular music. </p><p>"Airport" (Part I) is a long scene complex in which Alexandra and her compan- ions have an extended wait for their departing flight. In the hustle-bustle of the terminal there are crowds of people, from airport personnel to proper ladies to loudly dressed tourists. "Thresher" is another name for the scene "Agricultural Community" (Part II), the first place the travelers visit. After watching a thresh- ing dance, they share a meal and exchange gifts with the primitive farmers. Late at night, a giant wafting woman in white visits one of the travelers, Shizheng, in "Hungry Ghost" (Part II). In "Forest Questions" (Part II), the group, exploring a primeval rain forest, comes upon the oldest man in the world, whom they ask about the meaning of life. </p><p>Monk approaches the creation of opera wearing multiple hats: those of singer, composer, dancer, choreographer, theatre and film director, and performance artist. Steeped in all the arts and working in a very contemporary idiom, she breaks wi th traditional operatic norms. Basic to her music style is the color and expres- sive potential of the human voice. John Rockwell has called Monk "the archetypi- cal multimedia artist," because she has "managed to work - one art at a time or in combination - in dance, theatre, film, and video. "2 Her muse cannot be con- tained by mere music, mere dance, or mere drama. She is an artist in the broadest sense of the word. </p><p>The following is an excerpt from an interview with Meredith Monk, conducted by Leslie Lassetter in Monk's loft in New York City on September 8, 1992. It is printed here with the permission of Meredith Monk and The House Federation. </p><p>What was it about Alexandra David-Neel or other writings that you came across that inspired you in regard to Arias? </p><p>When I was at [the] MacDowell [Colony] in 1987, I picked up [Neel's] Magic and Mystery in Tibet, which my friend Lanny Harrison had always been talking about. I'd always heard about Alexandra David-Neel and Magic and Mystery in Tibet. I had a lot of time to read up there. I always enjoyed that, so I took that book with me. I've been doing a Buddhist meditation practice myself, called Shambhala Training, which I started in 1985, so I finally ended up reading that book, Magic and Mystery in Tibet. I thought it was such an extraordinary book. I remember thinking to myself, "Somebody should make a film about this woman, or somebody should do an opera about this woman." That went on the back burner of my mind, and then when I was working on Atlas, trying to find the exact theme that I wanted to work on, I somehow thought of her - </p><p>2 John Rockwell, quoted in Current Biography Yearbook, 1985 edition, s.v. "Monk, Meredith." </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f C</p><p>hica</p><p>go L</p><p>ibra</p><p>ry] </p><p>at 2</p><p>2:00</p><p> 06 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>Meredith Monk: Interview about Atlas 61 </p><p>not to do her life, because I wouldn' t even presume [to do that]. I think it would take five operas to express her life. For me to try to do an opera about somebody's life is not really my style. I need more imagination, possibilities for creating my own perceptual world. I find a literal narrative confining. So I basically just used her as a jumping-off point and a prototype of this idea of exploration, following your path no matter how strange it may seem. </p><p>How did Atlas come into being? Specifically, I'm wondering how the piece was created and how the stage action was developed. </p><p>In the case of Atlas, I should tell you some overall process, because it's a little different from some other pieces. [In] a piece like Quarry, for example, I would say that all the components were fairly much developed around the same time. I started working on Quarry about 1974, and we ended up premiering it in 1976. As I remember, I was really working on most of that material all at the same time: the musical aspects of it, the conceptual framework, the movement sections, the characters, the overall architectural Gestalt, you could say. So in a sense I was making my tiles for the mosaic. For many of my pieces, when I have developed quite a bit of material, I usually make a chart where I 'm literally drawing the layers on paper. I list the [musical] selections, the move- ment motifs, the characters, the visual ideas, the images, the light ideas, the overall sound ideas, and the architectural, spatial set-up. Then I can see, in a sense, what I have as a whole, what material I have so far. I haven't woven it together yet or placed the tiles in the mosaic, but I can see what I have. And I'll usually do that to get an overview before I start structuring. That's some- thing that I do in almost every piece. It's more the way a painter would work, somebody like Cezanne, who balances out how he places his blues in an overall idea of the canvas instead of [painting], in great detail, a particular corner and concentrating on that without seeing how it works with everything else. He was seeing the whole. So I get an overview at midpoint of process. </p><p>Atlas was quite different, because I worked two or three years on the music before I had any other elements. In other words, I had musical selections but I did not know where they went. I just intuitively knew: This is going to be something for the opera that I 'm making, and I'm not sure who's singing it, what part of this opera it is, or anything, but somehow I know this music is for the opera. </p><p>[So] with Atlas there was a music component that I worked on for a long time before I even went into the rehearsal process and before I even went into the audition process, which was another crazy thing. Usually you have the roles that people are going to play, and you audition, but I didn't even have a complete narrative structure at the time that I was auditioning. I chose an arbitrary number of people, because I knew that I wanted to have very large ensemble things, and I basically chose the human beings that I was interested in working with. And then, that influenced how I built the narrative structure. </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f C</p><p>hica</p><p>go L</p><p>ibra</p><p>ry] </p><p>at 2</p><p>2:00</p><p> 06 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>62 L. Lassetter </p><p>BROOKLYN ACADEMY OF MUSIC Harvey Lichtenstein, President and Executive Producer </p><p>in association with THE HOUSE FOUNDATION FOR THE ARTS </p><p>presents in the BAM Opera House </p><p>May 13, 7pro; May 14 &amp; 15, 8pro; May 16, 2 &amp; 8pro; May 17, 3pro </p><p>ATI an opera in three parts </p><p>by Meredith Monk </p><p>Music, Choreography, Direction by MEREDITH MONK Associate Director: PABLO VELA </p><p>Musical Director and Conductor: WAYNE HANKIN Art Director: YOSHIO YABARA </p><p>Costumes designed by YOSHIO YABARA Sets co-designed by DEBBY LEE COHEN and YOSHIO YABARA </p><p>Lighting designed by BEVERLY EMMONS Sound designed by DAVID MESCHTER </p><p>Vocal Director: ROBERT FEN Assistant Cborengrapber: CHING GONZALEZ </p><p>Miniatures &amp; Props designed by DEBBY LEE COHEN Film by DAVE GEAREY </p><p>Movement Coacb/Rebearsal Assistant: ALLISON EASTER Technical Director: JAMES SLATER Stage Manager: WILLIAM COINER </p><p>Performed by Carlos Ar6valo Thomas Bogdan Victoria Boomsma Janis Brenner Chen Shizheng </p><p>Allison Easter Robert Een Dina Emerson Emily Eyre Katie Geissmger Ching Gonzalez Sally Gross Dana Hanchard Wendy Hill Stephen Kalm Meredith Monk </p><p>Robert Osborne Wilbur Pauley Randall Wong </p><p>Scenario by Meredith Monk in collaboration with Yoshio Yabara and Pablo Vela Storyboards by Yoshio Yabara </p><p>Text by Meredith Monk, Pablo Vela and members of The Ensemble </p><p>Orchestration by Wayne Hankin and Meredith Monk "Forest Questions ~ Orchestration by Steve Lockwood Orchestral Consultant: Steve Lockwood Editorial Board: Hayes Biggs, Tali Makell, Paul Echols, Donald Ashwander, Dr. Wayne Kirby, </p><p>Dr. David Hurd, Andrea Andros, Susan Iodone, Grant Here/d, Juliet Palmer Musical Consultants: Nurit Tilles, Cynthia Powell, Robert Fen, Steve Lockwood </p><p>Produaion Coordinator: Karin Levi~s Props Coordinator: David McCane . Lighting Supervisor: Noele Stollmack Costume~Wardrobe Sup~n'uisor: Suzanne Gallo </p><p>Rehearsal assistant: Cathy Cahill Sets constructed by Mark Kindschi Set Assistant: Richard Scoggins Assistant to Mark Kindschi: Alex Kahn Assistant Designer: Mia Kanazawa </p><p>Wig Stylist: Manuela Nellie LaPorte Vocal Coach: Jeannette Lovetri Horse Consultant: Chris Peters Horse on film: ~Voodoo's Velvet Shadow" The Chocolate Barn, Delhi, New York ~Arctic Bar" and "Long Shadows" developed in collaboration with Robert Fen </p><p>Special thanks: Danny Ashkenazi, Tom Zajac </p><p>Figure 1. Title page to the Brooklyn Academy of Music's production of Atlas (used by permis- sion of the Brooklyn Academy of Music). </p><p>Dow</p><p>nloa</p><p>ded </p><p>by [</p><p>Uni</p><p>vers</p><p>ity o</p><p>f C</p><p>hica</p><p>go L</p><p>ibra</p><p>ry] </p><p>at 2</p><p>2:00</p><p> 06 </p><p>Oct</p><p>ober</p><p> 201</p><p>4 </p></li><li><p>Meredith Monk: Interview about Atlas 63 </p><p>Can you talk about Atlas...</p></li></ul>