Music & Libretto by Ken Ueno
Directed by Sarah Meyers
World Premiere - May 22, 2014 by Guerilla Opera
“The music is rich in inspiration, elegantly stark in effect… very much an experimental opera, not only in its willingness to try anything, but in that its dramatic impulse is, in essence, its inventive impulse… demonstrating that the family tree still produces surprising branches.” (THE BOSTON GLOBE)
ABOUT THE OPERA
Gallo is a new chamber opera with music and libretto by Rome-Prize winning composer Ken Ueno and direction by Metropolitan Opera stage director Sarah Meyers. This opera investigates how the landscape and man shape and transform each other. It also addresses the fundamental question of ontology, “the chicken or the egg,” and features a soprano in a Houdini box filled with Cheerios and a countertenor in a chicken suit. “Gallo” is an installation and immersive audience experience performed in the round. The audience is asked to remove their shoes and sit on a boardwalk bordering a beach made out of Cheerios.
The main inspiration for the work is places where traces of human civilization, ancient and modern, have decayed over time and have transformed into landscapes that now appear to be more natural than manmade. These spaces are repositories of human memory on one hand, but also confound man’s sense of agency and freedom, and his sense of mastery over nature. Examples of these spaces are: Monte Testaccio, a hill in Rome, now rife with discos, which was made into a hill as an ancient site where clay vases were deposited; the Disabitato, the region in Rome, within the Aurelian wall, where the landscape reclaimed uninhabited space during the 18th century; and Detroit. Throughout the chamber opera, arias comment on these spaces, over the backdrop of a landscape, a beach, made of Cheerios. The beach of Cheerios gives birth to a human protagonist, serves as a repository of memory (as a screen for projections of family trips to the beach), and ultimately serves as a Zen garden of contemplation. Several arias intercut the various transformations of the beach. In one, a rooster, named Farinelli, sings a non-sense aria, in chicken-ese (with English supertitles), about the fundamental questions of ontology, the chicken or the egg. In another aria, a female protagonist waxes admiringly about bee eaters, beautiful birds that eat bees, but is afraid that their beauty might kill us all.
Gallo is scored for percussion, alto saxophone, bass clarinet, cello, electronics, soprano and countertenor, and was premiered by Guerilla Opera on May 23, 2014 at The Boston Conservatory’s Zack Box Theater, where they are an Ensemble-in-Residence.
ABOUT THE COMPOSER
A recipient of the Rome Prize and the Berlin Prize, Ken Ueno, is a composer/vocalist/sound artist who is currently a Professor at UC Berkeley, where he holds the Jerry and Evelyn Hemmings Chambers Distinguished Professor Chair in Music. Ensembles and performers who have played Ken’s music include Kim Kashkashian and Robyn Schulkowsky, Mayumi Miyata, Teodoro Anzellotti, Aki Takahashi, Wendy Richman, Greg Oakes, BMOP, Alarm Will Sound, Steve Schick and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players, the Nieuw Ensemble, and Frances-Marie Uitti. His music has been performed at such venues as Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MusikTriennale Köln Festival, the Muziekgebouw, Ars Musica, Warsaw Autumn, Other Minds, the Hopkins Center, Spoleto USA, Steim, and at the Norfolk Music Festival. Ken’s piece for the Hilliard Ensemble, Shiroi Ishi, was featured in their repertoire for over ten years, with performances at such venues as Queen Elizabeth Hall in England, the Vienna Konzerthaus, and was aired on Italian national radio, RAI 3. Another work, Pharmakon, was performed dozens of times nationally by Eighth Blackbird during their 2001-2003 seasons. A portrait concert of Ken’s was featured on MaerzMusik in Berlin in 2011. In 2012, he was a featured artist on Other Minds 17. In 2014, Frances-Mairie Uitti and the Boston Modern Orchestra premiered his concerto for two-bow cello and orchestra, and Guerilla Opera premiered a run of his chamber opera, Gallo, to critical acclaim. He has performed as soloist in his vocal concerto with the Boston Modern Orchestra Project in New York and Boston, the Warsaw Philharmonic, the Lithuanian National Symphony, the Thailand Philharmonic Orchestra, and with orchestras in North Carolina, Pittsburgh, and California. Ken holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. A monograph CD of three orchestral concertos was released on the Bmop/sound label. His bio appears in The Grove Dictionary of American Music.