The Orphic Death of Ray Johnson
- Orfreo is a 35-minute-long chamber opera sung by countertenor,
soprano, bass and mezzo-soprano accompanied by a neo-baroque
orchestra of harpsichord, oboe, flute, string quartet and contrabass.
There are over 200 pieces based on the myth of Orpheus. This time,
the moment when Orpheus begins to wade across the Lethe in search of
Eurydice evokes the mysterious moment of the voluntary death by
drowning of Ray Johnson, the witty playful conceptualist who invented
mail art. Ray`s humor seeps into the lyrics and the characters.
Besides Orfreo, and Ray's Cat, and Lethe, a Crow shift-shapes into
Persephone, and Eurydice, and Beatrice. If Eurydice is Beatrice,
Orfreo must be Dante. This interplay of characters and archetypes
attempts to represent the forces at play at the moment of Ray
Johnson's suicide. The suicide is a step into a new life. Durkheim
The music sets the lyrics dramatically yet tunefully; the style is
post-minimalist within, so to speak, a neo-baroque context. The
musical mood of the piece, unexpectedly, considering the dark nature
of the subject, is quite varied, evolving rapidly from somber to
anxious to tender to triumphant. In the beginning the lyrics are
stretched then repeated, and broken into long syllables; after
Orfreo's aria, the sections tighten and shorten moving towards
Persephone's climactic aria; and finish in an exuberant finale as
Orfreo frees the two women from Hell. Neither is Beatrice; or are
they Beatrice all and the composer too?
Let Bea be finale of seem
The only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.
The premiere is scheduled for June 2, 2004, at New York's Merkin
Hall. Elaine Camparone, harpsichordist, will lead the Queen's
Chamber Band. Marshall Coid, countertenor, will sing the role of
Orfreo. Words are by Michael Andre, music by Elodie Lauten.