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Music Collides with Absurdist Theater in ‘Absurdopera' by Gustavo Leone

By Louise Burton on Nov 16, 2013 11:52 PM EST

Samuel Beckett's radio play Words and Music has been described as "a libretto in search of an opera." This 1962 play has finally found its way onto the operatic stage, thanks to composer Gustavo Leone, who wrote Absurdopera, a comic opera in two acts.

 "My idea was to write an opera in the style of the Theater of the Absurd," Leone said. For his libretto, he adapted two short plays by acknowledged masters of this style. Act one is based on Beckett's Words and Music, while act two is based on Eugene Ionesco's one-act play The Leader, written in 1960.

Absurdopera will have its world première on November 21 and 22 at Chicago's Mayne Stage as part of the Eighth Annual Latino Music Festival. Leone is a prolific composer who is also the co-director of the Latino Music Festival and a professor of music at Loyola University Chicago.

Words and Music, a play about the interplay of words and music in creating a drama, seems ideal for operatic treatment. In the first act of Absurdopera, the two main characters "Words" and "Music" are shown working simultaneously with and against each other in an effort to produce songs, musical interludes, and lyric poetry. The third character, Croak, suggests, pleads, and finally demands that they work together to create a song.

Act two is based on Ionesco's The Leader. Throughout most of this act, a group of followers and admirers wait expectantly for the arrival of The Leader. When he finally arrives at the end of the play, all five characters realize that The Leader is not exactly what they expected him to be.

Leone describes the music of Absurdopera as being very eclectic. In Words and Music, Beckett included many stage directions indicating the style of music, dynamics, duration, etc. Leone translated these sometimes absurd directions into his own music, often with humorous results.

When Music is directed to play a soft, romantic melody, "I wrote some music in the romantic style and stretched it out, elongated the gesture," Leone said. "Or I repeated the melody higher and higher in a romantic style, to the point where it became humorous, overdone."

Elsewhere, Leone created melodies in an exaggerated Baroque or romantic style, or wrote music for several voices that emulated Mozart's vocal ensembles. "For instance, there is an entire minute and a half of people saying 'I'm sorry' to one another, in the style of a quartet from Mozart's Marriage of Figaro," Leone said.

The cast of Absurdopera includes sopranos Michelle Areyzaga and Catalina Cuervo, tenors Kevin Newell and John Concepcion, baritone Michael Cavalieri, and actor Brian Shaw. Music is provided by the Kaia String Quartet conducted by Emanuele Andrizzi.

For more information about Absurdopera, please visit latinomusicfest.org.

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TagsAbsurdopera, Gustavo Leone, Latino Music Festival, Samuel Beckett, Words and Music, Eugene Ionesco, The Leader, Theater of the Absurd, Chicago, Mayne Stage, Kaia String Quartet