Recollections of the Premier Performance of Europera 5 from 1991 by Yvar Mikhashoff (1941-1993)

Monday, October 8, 2012

Europera 5 was created as a direct response to reactions following the initial response to reactions following the initial performance of Europera 4. I had contacted John Cage in the fall of 1989 to write a new work for the 1990 Almeida Festival, and after many changes and much discussion he created Europeras 3 and 4, an evening length work which had it premier in London in June 1990. There were further performances in Strasbourg and Paris. Europera 4 was a very quiet, sublime work of thirty minutes duration. Its instrumentation consisted of only solo piano, soprano, mezzo-soprano, pre-recorded tape (Truckera) and a horn victrola playing old opera recordings on 78-rpm records. The piano only made deliberate sounds in the last eleven minutes. With John’s advice, I had chosen the Liszt transcription of the Evening Star from Trannhauser. The first nineteen minutes were “shadow played.”

Many people thought that Europera 4 should be performed independently, but John did not agree at all. He was adamant that the two works be performed in sequence: Europera 3 is a more elaborate affair involving six singers, twelve record players, tape and two pianos. John and I discussed this, and he told me that if one couldn’t do Europera 3 together with Europera 4, “they should just sing hymns.” Later that year, when I visited him in New York around Christmas time, he told me that he had found a solution to this discussion-he would write a new work which, like Europera 4, would be small scale and practical. That is, portable and tourable.

He had completed it by March, 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.

The singers sing six arias of their choice at specific times in designated places on the stage. The television, radio, tape, and horn victrola play for specified durations at specified times. The pianist plays six times during the sixty minute duration: three times he “shadow plays” and three times is fully heard. The instructions call for the pianist to begin at a certain time, and it is stated that he is to play complete excerpts that end before he is to play again. The timings allowed for the fully heard excerpts are short, so I was provided the inspiration to create transcriptions of my own. Iin performance now, I play only these transcriptions which are from Bellini, Verdi, and Puccini. These are also recorded on a recital of my Opera Transcription for Mode records. John Cage was very pleased with them, perhaps because I used the nineteenth century Liszt traditions as my own method.

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 a suspension of time, space and music.

-Yvar Mikhashoff (aloft, Totont-Bankok, August 19-20, 1993)