MNiatures – Program Notes
Dear America, Beat Your Heart Defiantly, Naked & Open With Love is a miniature operatic piece that centers on the vocal expression of a Midwestern woman who has written, for spiritual catharsis, a series of compelling letters that reflect feelings of grief, loss, exhaustion and, ultimately, hope as she grapples with the emotional toll of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rebecca Nichloson, a Minneapolis-based creative writer & singer/songwriter wrote the libretto for the piece, created the melodies for the songs, and will vocally perform the work (www.RebeccaNichloson.com). Asako Hirabayashi composed the music; contributing harmonies, counter melodies and dynamic orchestration, and will perform the composition. The piece includes soul, Baroque, Romantic western and classical music influences, as well as the cello, piano, harpsichord, and positive organ (www.AsakoHirabayashi.com).
We may all feel the loneliness and isolation of the pandemic right now, but what are the unique ways we experience loneliness because of who we are? When Liên (Monique Bạch Hạc Nguyen) suddenly dies, her granddaughter Thi (Lady Midnight) is confronted with the shame of never fully knowing her, due to their language barrier. But Thi is given a second chance when a magical bird transports her back in time to Bến Tre, Viet Nam, where her grandma grew up.
Chim Lạc (Lost Bird) is a modern shadow puppet opera was written by Oanh Vu and was brought to life by the music of Charlie McCarron, the puppetry of Andrew Young and Oanh Vu, and puppeteers liping vong and Ty Chapman.
A veritable anthem of flamboyance, Tara – meaning ‘them’ in Bangla – is a Peepal tree with an ever-libidinous network of roots. She extracts from the ground what she needs in order to live a spectacular life. The most magnificent storyteller to the most exhausted traveler, Tara paints her stories in the sky with her own finger-branches, performing her story characters to a score in her head that mixes up European chamber music and Bangla blues. She treats Ubirajara – the python coiled up on her roots – with a care that is rare.
Set by a dazzling libretto – part caper, part tragedy – Xylem is the first step toward a new tonality in contemporary Bangla literature. Agitating both the western classical operatic format and South Asian musical theater, this piece creates subtle descriptions of the mood and personalities of its anthropomorphic characters by associating them with certain musical genres. In the visual medium the characters are brought to life as handmade puppets through stop motion. Materiality, 3D space, sculpture and motion interact with each other to create a fictional world. Materials used are derivatives of fabric, felt, bubble wrap, camping gear and other mundanely found things, recontextualised to create the world of Xylem. The creators of this work and the orchestra stand as part of the visual canvas they are creating. Xylem is subtitled in English.
Don’t Tread on Me: A Century of Racism
In the spirit of MNiatures’ goal of tiny operas with big ideas, our piece is a musical snapshot of racism in America over the last 100 years. We wanted to explore the mental and emotional experience of those that endured and thrived before us, as well as what we experience now.
Moving from 1920 to 1970 to 2020, the faces of racism transform for our characters. In 1920, a minor interaction with a white person could have a fatal result. In 1970, in an era of civil rights protest and Black power expression, discrimination and indignity can contribute to one’s frustration and toxic stress. In 2020, the rise of entitled instigators (now known as Karens), agitates and compounds the daily stress of being Black in America. Whether microaggressions or blatant physical violence, we have a long history of enduring what should not have to be endured.
As one character states, “the time has changed but the pain remains.” But you know what also remains? We do. Despite all that we have experienced, we haven’t gone anywhere. Our future is assured, and we will decide what that looks like. As our final song says, we’re ready for something new.