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The Listeners © CC0 Public Domain i
The Listeners is a proposed new grand opera from composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek based on an original story by Jordan Tannahill and inspired by the phenomenon known as The Hum.
The Listeners is an opera about our desperate desire to belong, our search for community and meaning, and the power of charismatic leaders who exploit these desires.
A middle-class mother living in a southwestern US suburb notices a “hum,” a high-frequency environmental noise that only a select few people, “the Listeners”, can hear. A community organization quickly forms to solve the mystery of the hum, but when a de facto leader suggests a spiritual significance the meetings become increasingly cult-like, ritualized experiences. It becomes clear that this community of “Listeners” is on a collision course of destruction.
This opera examines the lengths to which we are willing to go in order to find a sense of place and purpose, and the way in which charismatic leaders can exploit these needs to their own ends. An enduring part of our American identity is a sense of deserved and inevitable success and happiness. When this imagined future collides with the realities and struggles of everyday life, dazzling and predatory leaders offering a “quick fix” can easily prey on the vulnerabilities of the lonely and lost.
Set in the modern American world, the stark oppression of suburban life pervades the desert Ranchlands location – an original location expressed in a filmic use of light, turning set and video. On camera confessions are an intrinsic part of the libretto and these, projected onto the set, will bring the audience up close into the madness of the cult and the affect of the people who can hear The Global Hum.
More about "The Hum":
This is a new opera, from an original idea rather than an adaptation of an already existing film or book, which sends a powerful message that modern main scale opera does not have to filter itself through other art forms in its search for subjects.
Its subject, The Global Hum, and the effect of it on people who suffer from hearing it constantly is told through the eyes of a black American female character. This tale of technological insanity and the cult that builds up around resistance to it is incredibly modern and suitable for the creation of a sound world that Mazzoli can conjure in a highly effective way.
A female composer and a diverse team and cast reflect the modern society that the audience belongs to and therefore the message that these under-represented groups are invested in at the highest level encourages not only the next generation of artists but the audience that will be attracted by a truly modern piece.
A key expense and foundation of the musical texture is the creation of "the hum" through electrical soundscape in the orchestra and the idea that it is present all the way through the piece but only becomes audible to the audience as the drama intensifies. This is what changes us from merely bystanders into equal participants of the cult of the listeners. We need extra resources that can work for both companies and new co-producers to ensure that we create the correct effect for this strong opera of our time.
This is the first partnership on a commission for The Norwegian National Opera with a company known for its success in new work, the first full length opera by an internationally profiled female director and the first with cast diversity written into the project. This expands Opera Philadelphias profile into Scandinavia and Europe on a full-scale commission for the first time, and their investment in a female American composer set to make work in the future for other high profile houses.
The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet is Norway's only professional opera ensemble. Over the last years the house has commissioned and premiered new works by composers such as Jüri Reinvere (2014), Rolf Wallin (2016) and Synne Skouen (2017). Previous Artistic director, Annilese Miskimmon, initiated a new initiative called VOeX Oslo (Various Operatic Experiments), aiming at creating an eco-system that broadens interest, discussion and enthusiasm from audience and composers librettists, directors and designers into how and why we create 21st Century opera. The International Opera Award awarded its accessibility prize in 2015 to The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet. The jury was utterly taken with the institution’s cultivation of openness, reflected not only in its beautifully designed house but also in the way it strives to make live opera available and appealing to new audiences on its stage.
With the launch of the American Repertoire Program in 2011, Opera Philadelphia has a demonstrated track record in the development of new operatic works, and has commissioned or co-commissioned nine new operas from composers like Jennifer Higdon's Cold Mountain, Kevin Puts's Silent Night, Missy Mazzoli's Breaking the Waves, and Daniel Bernard Roumain's We Shall not be moved. Opera Philadelphia also has a strong background in working with artistic partners to develop new works suitable for presentation in varying venues. Their field impact is expanded by 57 production runs representing 200 performances in more than 40 cities around the world.
Composer Missy Mazzoli and librettist Royce Vavrek are both rising young creative talents with an established and productive collaboration that has already expanded the world of opera in fruitful ways through their two previous operas, Proving Up (commissioned by Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha and New York’s Miller Theatre and premiered in 2018) and Breaking the Waves (commissioned by Opera Philadelphia and Beth Morrison Projects in 2016). These works have been hailed as «a true opera of our time» (Washington Post on Proving Up) and «among the best 21st-century operas yet» (Opera News on Breaking the Waves).
The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet and Opera Philadelphia seek to empower them to further hone their talents and voices in opera composition, which have proved to be a unique encounter of the operatic form and important topics in and of the world we live in today.
Director Lileana Blain-Cruz is a Cuban-American director from New York City and Miami. She is a recent recipient of a New York Theatre Workshop 2050 Fellowship and a 2017 Obie Award for directing The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World at Signature Theatre. She received her M.F.A. in directing from Yale School of Drama. She is a graduate of Princeton University.
FEDORA Artists Series, Jury Nominee, FEDORA Prizes, Nominee
The Norwegian National Opera & Ballet
16 October 2020
Meet the creators behind the projects nominated for the FEDORA Prizes!
Discover Missy Mazzoli, Composer and Royce Vavrek, Librettist of "The Listeners" by Den Norske Opera & Ballett, nominee of the FEDORA Opera Prize 2020.