On October 29 and 31, the Browning Cinema screened a type of production never before seen at Notre Dame: “Please Look: A Cinematic Opera Experience” was a creative solution to the restrictions of the previous year. Unable to organize live performances, Opera Notre Dame rose to the challenge of developing a film – uniquely combining the thrill of cinema with the drama of opera, “Please Look” has crafted a sophisticated art form.
According to Kierra Duffy, vocal performance teacher and producer of the film, “Please Look” is a “conceptual opera music video project,” full of “vignettes that each exist as a stand-alone moment.” It presents minimalist and post-minimalist American compositions, branches of music to which students are not often exposed. The minimalist school emerged in the late 1950s in downtown New York; unlike the very dissonant European composition techniques of this period, minimalists made more frequent use of consonant patterns. They are called “minimalists” partly for the incessant repetitions of these melodic themes without much variation. Each piece of the program is different and loaded with meaning. Duffy says that individual audience members are expected to “get an original sense” of the scene, comparing it to the experience of “looking at a Jackson Pollock painting”. The introspective nature of the film is “conceived as an abstract and even spiritual experience, a platform for people to reflect on and digest the events of the past year and a half”.
Mary Katherine Bucko, Catherine Hyry and Lauren Lundy started the show with the piece “Before I Enter”, taken from David Lang’s oratorio “Shelter” (2005). The principle is simple, being a narration of someone’s daily rituals before entering their home. A strange flicker of lamps, varying tones of light, and the monotonous wording of the text add a layer of fear and suspense. Jeron Burney and Lauren Lundy sing the next piece, a climatic and intense love duet from “Akhanaten” by Philip Glass (1983). Each lover seeks the other in the song of the woods, arriving at their destination only to continuously turn around each other, unable to establish contact. The music also shares the “turning” theme, greatly extending the resolution of the conflict.
Megan Meyer solos “Please Look”, a title from which the film is derived. At the origin of the opera “Lost Objects” by Michael Gordon (2001), this haunting scene chills your spine as the soprano rehearses “Missing child please look then forward on” and describes the incident via email . Stumbling desperately through the woods, her urgent cry seems to mimic a mermaid. Towards the end of the piece in particular, one can recall the sensation of the Doppler effect as the music gradually comes to an end.
“This is Prophetic” from “Nixon in China” (1987), is perhaps the most relevant of the composition, as the singer’s lyrics could be reiterated for our present time. Margaret Foster plays Pat Nixon, who has brilliant music lines such as, “Why regret life, which is so much like a dream?” “,” May luxury dissolve in the atmosphere “and” May routine alleviate the edge of mortality “. Scenes from Nixon’s visit to China scroll across the screen, a major event at the time given that the United States hadn’t seen anything from China for nearly two decades.
Emorja Roberson and Thomas Valle-Hoag sing the “Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan of Arc” (1981). The words are almost like echoes in Joan’s mind, recalling how the saints appeared and how they constantly told her to “speak boldly”. Erica Forbes solo performs the Magnificat of “El Niño” by John Adam (2000), a dreamlike interpretation of the gospel of Luke’s words. Shown in white for her purity, Mary is surrounded by women in black who accompany her throughout the song. Next, a large group performs “Things Heaven and Hell”, a ritual-like scene with largely experimental music.
Towards the end of the film, Catherine Hyry, Lauren Lundy, Sounak “Raj” Das and Howard Eckdahl surround a bonfire to perform the beautiful and dark “Have Mercy, My God” from “The Little Match Girl Passion” (2008). It’s a moving prayer, but the occasional fire panels seem to convey hellish imagery, leaving audiences wondering what the characters seek salvation from.
The last piece, “Choosing companions” from “Atlas” (1991), is the definition of spring; flowering trees surround the figures, all of whom imitate birds, their bird song and a supposedly bird-like conversation. The female bird (Meredith Monk) sings a beautiful melody and goes in search of companions to share it. Rejecting the pompous bird (Thomas Valle-Hoag), she instead finds two other characters (Emorja Roberson and Sounak “Raj” Das) who help her form a cute trio to light up the spring.
Duffy is incredibly proud of the singers, saying she even had to remember that they were students and not professionals. Indeed, the singers, accompanied by the fantastic Symphony Orchestra of Notre Dame, sang and performed brilliantly. “Please watch” was a hopeful throwback to an incredibly difficult year, leaving us eager to see more of this new art form at Notre Dame.