IN A GROVE
music by Christopher Cerrone
libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann
directed by Mary Birnbaum
produced by Nunally Kersh
An opera in progress based on Akutagawa's classic short story, In a Grove.
Duration: 60 minutes. Forces: countertenor, baritone, tenor, soprano; 6–10 instrumentalists.
Workshop/Residency, Mahagony Theater Group's Various Stages Festival, London, England, February 24, 2017
Excerpt in concert, Morgan Library, American Lyric Theater, March 3, 2019
Workshop/Residency, Mass MoCA, August 2019
score & libretto
Available upon request.
A silent, waiting grove. A violent encounter between a Samurai and his wife and a notorious brigand. Seven testimonies, each offering up a different perspective on the crime. Inspired by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa’s eponymous short story, In a Grove is sited on the precipice of installation and chamber opera.
As the audience enters, the piece has already begun. The performers build the environment, which becomes a haunted temple to which the witnesses and perpetrators of the crime have come to reckon with the truth. The audience is complicit in this ritual, inhabiting a shared space with the performers that radically expands and contracts over the course of the work. As the work progresses, the temple opens up to reveal the grove, which now encompasses audience and performers alike.
Four singers play eight roles, each assuming the character of both witness and participant in the crime. Six instrumentalists also function as characters, each in concert with a different testimonial. Dispersed throughout the space and accompanied by electronics throughout, the instruments form the architecture of this world. As testimonies unfold, singers and players shift the sonic terrain and the audience’s relationship to the drama.
The score is both lush and menacing, engendering an air of suspense. Testimonies overlay, evoking the imprecise nature of memory as musical ideas slip in and out of focus. The visual aesthetic is stripped down, verging on austere.
Each of the central characters claims responsibility for the crime. In the retelling of the events from multiple perspectives, the dead Samurai dies three times. As does Masago, the young woman at the heart of the story, who comes to the temple seeking refuge. Yet she who wants nothing more than to end her life cannot seem to die. She is destined to relive the events over and over again.
Our search for the truth remains as elusive today as when Akutagawa wrote “In a Grove” in 1922. In an age of alternative facts, the idea of exploring the possibility of truth only becomes all the more essential.
Shifting from intimate to epic and back, IN A GROVE will offer up a powerfully unsettling, haunting experience designed to be both confounding and crystalline, disjunctive yet deeply emotional.
Contact directly to view a private link of the first 12 minutes.