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Performance  |  Europera 5 by John Cage

Friday, October 12, 2012, 8–9:30 pm

Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Auditorium  

Europera 5 (1991) was John Cage's last and most portable opera. It is a collage scored for two singers, each singing five arias of their own choosing from the standard opera repertoire. A pianist "accompanies" them by playing six different opera transcriptions. They are joined by a single 78-rpm victrola player, playing six historical opera recordings and a performer playing a pre-recorded tape, plus the use of a radio and a silent television.

This performance will feature:

Martha Herr, Soprano
Tom Kostusiak, Lighting
Don Metz, Truckera tape
Amy Williams, Piano
Jan Williams, Victrola (78-rpm)
Robert Zimmerman, Tenor

For questions and inquiries, contact Don Metz at (716) 878-5564.


Europera 5 by John Cage
An Arbitrary Irruption of Light and Sound

John Cage (1912-1992) was one of the most influential and inventive composers of the second half of the 20th century. He was constantly looking for ways to find and invent new sounds and to organize them through unconventional means of notation and time, utilizing indeterminacy in music through chance operations. Cage is revered world-wide not only as a composer, but as a writer, philosopher, graphic artist, painter and lecturer, who influenced and inspired artists in many disciplines. Critics agree that his challenge to conquer our dislikes in order to revolutionized how we perceive and reshaped aesthetic thought in the second half of the 20th Century. Cage suggested we “use art not as self expression, but as self alteration.”

He revolutionized music by emphasizing the use of silence within its vocabulary and proclaimed “all sound is music” and “everything we do is music.” In the 1990 documentary John Cage: I have Nothing to Say and I am Saying it, he states: “I have come to my music to enjoy the sounds wherever I am. I wouldn’t say that I understand the environment, I simply experience it. The first question I ask myself when something doesn’t seem to be beautiful is why I don’t think it is beautiful. And very shortly after, you discover there is no reason.”

In 1987, Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Reiner Riehm invited Cage to write an opera that was intended to be an "irreversible negation of the opera as such". Cage response, "For 200 years the Europeans have sent us their operas. Now I am returning them all to them." In 1987 Europera 1 & 2 premiered in the Frankfurt Opera. Cage chose for his musical materials in his Europeras, fragments of eighteenth and nineteenth century operas. There is no music by the composer. Instead, there is found music that is organized by the composer using chance operations, and, in the case of Europera 5, he instructs performers to select parts to perform from their repertoire.

Cage completed Europera 5 in March, 1991, in time for its premiere in Buffalo at the North American New Musical Festival on April 12, 1991. The work was a co-commissioned with the DeIjsbreker International Music Center in Amsterdam and, appropriately, the first European performances were in Holland that May with the same personnel. There were subsequent performances in Brussels and Ghent in Belgium and Bergen, Norway, with further performances in Ferrara (Italy), Odense (Denmark) and Geneva.

In the summer of 1992, there were five performances of Europera 5 in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art. Between the second and third performances John Cage died. Europera 5 was the last public performance of his own work that he heard. In a sense, he became part of this transcendent theatre piece which combines elements of two centuries, never-blending, to create an emulsion of time, space and music. -

Europera 5 enlists two singers, a pianist, a technician operating a tape recorder, a television and radio, a lighting technician and a person playing records on a victrola. Each performer follows a set of rules that were determined by chance operations.

- Don Metz

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