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Stranger Love


Stranger Love
An Opera in Three Acts
Music by Dylan Mattingly
Text by Thomas Bartscherer
Concept by Thomas Bartscherer & Dylan Mattingly

The opera was selected for the 2017 First Take festival at the Aratani Theater in Los Angeles. Excerpts from Act I Scenes V and VI available here

A concert version of Act I will be performed in NYC at the Prototype festival.

Both a love story and the story of love, Stranger Love begins with the tale of two lovers, Tasha and André. Like Orpheus & Eurydice, Heloise & Abelard, Rick & Elsa, chance brings them together and their brief, intense joy is soon threatened. Yet for these contemporary heroes, the greatest peril comes not from the inexorable hand of fate, but rather from the dizzying promise of freedom. Their story unfolds to the rhythm of the seasons: Spring is the encounter; Summer, the unfolding; Autumn, the threat from without; Winter, the threat from within. Narration and abstraction vie for preeminence as the first act unfolds, Tasha and André struggling to comprehend the paradoxes of human love—the bondage that is liberation, the coincidence of pleasure and pain, the vision of eternity in an instant.

Act II re-frames the story: no longer individual, it is now archetypical. The singers, who were on stage in Act I as in traditional opera, join the instrumental ensemble, and the action now belongs to six dancers in three pairs, each couple gradually drawing closer in a slow, inexorable movement. The music and lighting retrace the progression of seasons. Jet trails unfurl across a summer sky. Light snow falls in winter. The dance on stage culminates differently for each couple: one pair meets in a kiss; one pair collides and falls; one pair… misses.

After an intermission, Act III begins in complete darkness. No singers, no dancers: just a constellation of lights scattered vertically through the space which move away from the center at slightly different speeds, creating depth, as though the audience is traveling into the negative space. The music, however, is not a dying away, but a revelation of vitality, pure joy, the velocity of universal expansion. The opera ends in pitch black.

The unstated architecture of the opera is drawn from Plato’s Symposium. Act I presents love in a human and personal frame, as in Alcibiades’ speech. The second act follows Aristophanes in depicting an archetypal account of human love. Act III is inspired by the vision of divine love — a love supreme — that Socrates attributes to the priestess Diotima.

In addition to the eight singers and six dancers, the opera calls for a chamber orchestra of 28 musicians. The work is expected to be complete by the Summer of 2017.

At roughly six hours, Stranger Love is deliberately counter-cultural in scale. Given the persistent fragmentation of contemporary life into ever shorter temporal intervals, hectic distraction has become a default mode of our daily experience. Large-scale art forms provide a rare opportunity to encounter and dwell within a different temporality, a kind of “slow time” (Keats) in which attention is both dilated and focused. Through the collage and sequencing of music, lyric, dance, and scenography, Stranger Love endeavors to make this kind of uncommon experience possible.

Act I is the longest and has the greatest density of events (both musical and dramatic); Act II is slightly shorter, more abstract, with fewer dramatic shifts; Act III is the briefest (25 minutes), conceived as a monolith, effectively a single instant of music. The movement is from a more familiar experience of time and space — not naturalistic, but recognizably an image of common daily life — toward something like Plato’s conception of time as “a moving image of eternity.”