An emotional journey through pasticcio opera

Thursday, Jan 14, 2016, 05:57 AM | Source: Pursuit

By Jane Davidson

An emotional journey through pasticcio opera

Voyage to the Moon, a collaboration between Victorian Opera and Musica Viva in partnership with the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions,is a modern-daypasticcio opera that draws upon the epic 16th-century poem Orlando Furioso.

Featuring music by some of the greatest Baroque composers and a libretto by an Australian playwright, the new work allows the modern librettist and composer/arrangers to experiment with how emotions were constituted and developed through the pasticcio art form. By observing the creative process from inception to performance, researchers hope to gain insight into how the affections of audiences are moved.

A dialogue between the past and the present

Pasticcio operas came to prominence in the late 17th century, when composers worked existing musical works into new operas with either existing or newly written libretti. Like modern-day 'mash-ups', these creations took from previously composed material to create something new. Also like the mash-up, these reassembled compositions were initially considered lowbrow, but over time became accepted as a respectable art form.

Phoebe Briggs (conductor), Jeremy Kleeman, Emma Matthews and Sally-Anne Russell. Photo by Keith Saunders

Voyage to the Moon is being developed by acclaimed Australian playwright and director Michael Gow, with musical materials selected in part by Baroque guru Alan Curtis, who died unexpectedly mid-project. Australian composer and performer Calvin Bowman is bringing the music to completion with the support of Victorian Opera's artistic team, Richard Mills and Phoebe Briggs. The performance will feature soprano Emma Matthews, mezzo-soprano Sally-Anne Russell, and MCM graduate bass-baritone Jeremy Kleeman. Musica Viva, under the artistic direction of Carl Vine, has also invited seven of Australia's leading chamber players to form the accompanying ensemble. Research on the creation and production of Voyage to the Moon is being led by Jane Davidson, MCM Professor of Creative and Performing Arts and Deputy Director of the Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions.

Collaboration through the ages

Davidson says the pasticcio form lends itself well to investigating the role of collaboration.

"Why this particular musical form is so interesting is composers, librettists and singers worked together to create these works," says Davidson. "During the Baroque period a lot of borrowing happened, with famous arias from one opera being favoured by a star singer and then integrated by new composers into a new work. So this project has been about:

How do we recover the arts culture of the pasticcio of the past and the emotions underlying the production of such works?

Also, in terms of production values, how do we reimagine that kind of working practice today?"

Working on the project over several months, researchers have been fascinated by the intensive nature of the creative process – in particular how Gow and the musicians have worked toward rejecting ideas or refining new ones – and gained fresh insight into how personal dynamics shape the creative process.

Emotion is key

While Davidson says the emotional influence of the new work's creators and performers is fascinating, how the audience perceives the work is also significant.

"As a researcher, I'm interested in what individuals and the audience as a collective take away from the experience," says Davidson, who will also lean on modern technology to help parse the emotional dialogue of the ages. "We're going to have some audience members tracking their emotional experience through the performance using iPads. We'll have questionnaires available online, where the audience will be able to give detailed feedback. We'll also have Q&A interaction with the performers, some of whom will keep diaries to blog. These dialogues between artists in contemporary music and their public are quite current in popular culture, so to promote this kind of engagement within an opera production will be good."

Davidson also hopes the reimagining of the pasticcio will pique the interest of fresh ears.

"It's also aiming to tap into the new demographic and bring in a new audience," she admits. "But also the demographic of people who are the followers of the institutions involved."

Like the project itself, it's a desire for dialogue between the ages.

Voyage to the Moon will premiere in Melbourne from 15 - 19 February 2016 at the Melbourne Recital Centre, followed by a national tour under the auspices of Musica Viva.

Banner image: Flickr / cc Rachel Kramer