INTERVIEW | Jamie Mann: “It seems obvious, but it’s not: modern opera must start with people who are alive”

VALENCIA. Les Arts will host this Friday within Ensems, which is surely the youngest opera ever, Cabbage. Released in November 2021 and produced by the ENOA Project, Jamie Menn brings to the stage the story of a suspected child killer who is interrogated but has already built a large cell around herself. An hour-long installation, quintessentially contemporary, that dramatically changes the coordinates of the rest of the opera season. cultural square talk to Jamie Menn, its author, about some keys to her work.

– In Valencia, we are not at all used to modern opera, so the first question is perhaps a bit clear: what is modern opera and what is not?
– Modern opera is an opera created by living people. It seems obvious, but in classical music we devote a lot of our energy and space to dead people’s voices and give them that platform and continue to give it to them. If there is one thing that I think is important in modern opera, it is that the voice of the people living today is heard, especially those of the generation that is taking over. That is, always give room to the next generation.

– Do you think there is a lot of weight in the formation itself?
– Well, my training is extremely classical, especially as a director. You study decades and decades of repertoire, especially from European composers. And that’s how you know things are done because they spend hours and hours teaching you that what you have to do is what these European men did. It was very interesting for me to step out of that dynamic and ask myself what music means to me and discover what I can develop in music, what I can contribute that no one else can.

– What is your experience as a creator then? What is the audience’s relationship with your work?
– One of the most important things in opera (and, well, in performing arts) is performance, the way I write my characters. Ever since Heiner Müller or Samuel Beckett, there is no longer a single interest in the third person, and we enter into dialogue with both the first and the third person at the same time. in Cabbage I wanted to create a piece that hints at a first-person reflection, so it’s based on a story, but we don’t tell it as it is, we show it as fragments of memory. The audience’s attempt is to order these fragments, as if they have to remember themselves at the same time as the character, at the same time that they observe. The distance with the audience becomes different.

– You talk about influences and you cite David Lynch and Jean-Luc Godard, who are two directors. How to bring the cinematic narrative to the stage?
– I refer to Lynch and Godard precisely because they are cinematographers, because it is I who take cinema to generate this different distance. In what you see on stage and what you hear from what happens on stage, I used cinematographic techniques. When we watch theatre, everything happens on the stage; in our case, everything goes dark and people seem to come out of a distant place. There is live music and sound techniques, but I also borrow some techniques from film editing.

– What is the potential of darkness?
– First we experience the different sound. When I write music, I consider whether I’m creating it to be heard in light or dark. To me, these are two completely different shades. And secondly, the darkness is an invitation to the audience to listen in a new way, but it is also a proposal to change the way we see. Humans are oculocentric. When you remove the visual stimulus, you enter a different way of thinking about things. It’s an invitation to the imagination rather than just telling something.

– This is also the difference with classical opera: you don’t want to count something, you try to overcome the narrative and elevate the memory, for example.
– Yes, I think the time when someone puts someone on stage and gives lessons is a very catholic and messianic way of looking at the performing arts. I believe that technology, access to information allows us to overcome this scenario. Almost everyone has the ability to read and know, and so we must now be invited to think for ourselves. And our generation is increasingly being trained for this. We are not learning like past generations.

– Focusing on Cabbage. When you mention the concept of prison, do you mean one that society builds around a person, or is it one that a person builds to distance themselves from society?
– I’d say it’s two o’clock. Undoubtedly, the main character has his own prison, the one built to escape from everything generated by consciousness; but there is another prison of society, and imagination is the instrument to break it. That’s why it’s so important to create.

– Speaking of representation, you put on stage not only a female character, but also a female who may have committed a crime, a female bad.
– And I would say that the fact that she is an older woman, which is a very stereotypical figure, is also important. Older women should be sensitive and tender. They are the ones who cannot be bad. We should not dwell on the fact that the female image in opera is crazy, shrill or dead women. Reality tells us this is not the case.

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