POWERS OF TWO

an electroacoustic opera for six singers, two dancers, video tape and eight digital soundtracks

Cast

The Woman (soprano)

The Journalist/Sappho (mezzo-soprano)

The Sibyl (alto)

The Seer (counter-tenor)

The Artist (lyric tenor)

The Man (baritone)

Male dancer

Female dancer

Libretto by the composer

Complete performance available on CD

  Sound Example available

See also the Excerpts and Adaptations (Thou and I and Orpheus Ascending) of the work

 Structure: Act I: Repetition

The Man & Woman, Artist & Journalist, Male & Female Dancers (23')

(CD excerpt available: In Memoriam A.H.H.)

Interlude: Sequence of Earlier Heaven

Act II: The Sibyl

The Sibyl, Journalist & Dancer (24')

(CD excerpt available: Hymn to the Moon)

Interlude: Sequence of Earlier Heaven

Act III: The Artist

The Seer, Artist & Dancer (24')

(Full CD recording available)

Interlude: Sequence of Earlier Heaven

Act IV: Beyond

The Journalist & Artist, Man & Woman, Male & Female Dancers (21')

  Sound Example available

Duration: 93 min. + interludes

Technical requirements: Eight-channel tape diffusion and amplified singers, plus video projection

A Modern Baroque Opera workshop presentation: Production Photos
Some thoughts on a "
baroque modern" opera and background on Powers of Two

Reviewers' Comments:

Powers of Two, Barry Truax's third electroacoustic opera, and by far his most powerful, sophisticated, and developed ... promises to be a revolutionary media performance truly deserving of the term twenty-first century art. - Randy Raine-Reusch, Musicworks, 90, Fall 2004, p. 52.

Powers of Two is a project of epic proportions, with intricate layers of ancient, classical, and contemporary musical and cultural reference. - Kristiana Clements, Musicworks, 91, Spring 2005, pp. 51-52.

Powers of Two ... examines the influence of technologically created and reproduced beauty. Acts Two and Three of this two hour work are particularly captivating. Mezzo Fides Krucker and countertenor David Dong Qyu Lee give superb performances. Kudos to Truax for creating a thoroughly contemporary plot and pioneering a new generation of opera. - Stephanie Moore, Musicworks, 94, Spring 2006, p. 61.


Powers of Two is a piece of electroacoustic music theatre that explores the symbolism and dynamic tension between various pairs of opposites: the visual and auditory, the real and virtual, male and female, gay and straight. Although the characters are only partly realistic, they enact various human emotions in their search for spiritual, psychological and sexual unity.

Synopsis:

Act I: The set consists of a video projection screen in the centre of the stage, on either side of which are banks of computer and television monitors. The video projection in this act may be entirely "live" from a camera controlled by one of the dancers or is pre-recorded with the cast.

The four singers in this act, young urbanites dressed in contemporary street clothes, are engaged in various relationships, none of which appear to be working. The two dancers may video tape the other performers (shown live on the projection screen), but they also "shadow" their partner of the same sex as a "virtual other". That is, the male dancer shadows the tenor (The Artist) who cannot see him, and the female dancer shadows the mezzo-soprano (The Journalist) who likewise is oblivious to her presence. The baritone (The Man) and The Journalist use cell phones, possibly connected to each other. At first, the two male and two female characters appear linked through friendship, but these disintegrate when The Man falls in love with the image of the soprano (The Woman) who he sees only on screen; however, that relationship also dissolves in conflict, ending in the apparent "death" of The Woman who sings of her love for the ideal "Orpheus" as expressed through the romantic poetry she is always reading. The Artist attempts to express his love for The Man, but is roughly rejected, as are his arguments to The Journalist about artistic expression in the face of media priorities. The Journalist who is trying to pursue a career in a man's world, is also trying to hide being a lesbian. She is tormented by self-hatred, but secretly expresses her frustrated desire for an ideal woman. Encouraged by the dancers who act as their "angels", The Artist and Journalist resolve to pursue their respective quests, The Artist going to The Seer for spiritual guidance, and The Journalist going to The Sibyl to get a media story.

Interludes: Tape solos that allow the set to be changed. The Sequence of Earlier Heaven is a pattern found in the I Ching which is based on opposite polarities and their energies. This symbolism is explored in a composition based on environmental and percussion materials.

Act II: The act begins with The Sibyl, an oracle, seated in front of the screen, wearing a magnificent cape and singing of the Golden Age of long ago. However, she must find a successor, and hopes to do so in the person of The Journalist, who enters looking for a "story", equipped with a video camera and lights that blank out the video screen. The Journalist, a lesbian, extols the new perfection of the "golden age" of television, illustrated by processed images of female models. The Sibyl criticizes the illusory quality of these images and tells The Journalist she must forsake the materialism represented by the world of advertising which she does through a symbolic "death" in which the cape is used to cover her (with musical reference to Berg's "Lulu, my angel"). She is "reborn" to become the new Sibyl (now called Sappho) by assuming the cape and returning to the opening song.

Act III: The Artist, a gay male, arrives seeking artistic guidance from The Seer, seated atop a platform to which he is confined. The Seer seems to offer him enticing images and poetic musical excerpts on the screen and speakers. However, The Artist does not understand these images but still creates and sings beautiful poetry. In his personal quest for fulfillment, both personal and artistic, The Artist goes through states of attraction and desire, conflict and remorse, loss and grief, and finally, reconciliation and acceptance. The Seer eventually abandons his attempts to communicate with The Artist, and turns inwards via a symbolic "blinding" in order to achieve spiritual insight. The Artist similarly undergoes a transformation and appears in a magnificent costume in a symbolic union with his beloved "other".

Act IV: The entire stage resembles a video screen, enclosed by a barrier, within which is a powerful light (the 'Beyond'). The act begins with a requiem in remembrance of the dead, specifically addressed to the "too young departed", and concludes with the Woman being escorted into the Beyond by the dancers. The two other singers (The Artist and The Journalist/Sappho) enter together from the house, each clad in the kimono and cape in which they have finished Acts II and III. They move symmetrically with each other and are attracted by the dim outline of the dancers in the ganzfeld whom they kiss exactly at the knife-edge boundary before they enter to unite with those figures.

Although initially terrified by the sight of the Beyond, The Man is irresistibly drawn towards it by The Woman who is already in that space. In a reversal of the Orpheus and Eurydice story, she warns him not to look at her and tells him to approach her backwards and rely on hearing her voice. After several failed attempts, The Man is once again urged to approach by the dancers and give up his reliance on sight and reason. He finally ceases to resist and is guided backwards across the knife-edge, where he is clothed anew and is re-united with The Woman. The act ends with the joyful song "We are the stars which sing", a traditional First Nations text.

The lyric poetry used in the opera is derived from a wide range of sources including Charlotte Lennox (1729-1804), Katherine Philips (1631-64), Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Walt Whitman, R. M. Rilke (in a new translation by Norbert Ruebsaat), Aphra Behn (1640-89), Louise Labé (1525-66), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), Giovambattista Marino (1569-1625), Guido Cavalcanti (1255-1300), Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), and Jalal al-Din Rumi, with additional material written by the composer.

Technical Note:

The tape is composed solely from sung and spoken voices, Pacific Rim percussion, and Italian ambiences, all digitally processed (using granulation and resonators) with the composer's PODX system and diffused through Harmonic Functions' DM8 signal processor.


References:

B. Truax, "Sounds and Sources in Powers of Two: Towards a Contemporary Myth," Organised Sound, 1(1), 13-21, 1996.

B. Truax, "The aesthetics of computer music: a questionable concept reconsidered," Organised Sound, 5(3), 119-126, 2000.


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