All artists utilize space, but in the case of UI composer Stephen Taylor, it was all-encompassing.
Taylor, a UI professor of music, wrote the music for “Paradises Lost,” a futuristic opera being presented at 7:30 p.m. April 26-28 and at 3 p.m. April 29 in the Tryon Festival Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Stephen Taylor, a professor of music, composed the music for the futuristic opera “Paradises Lost.” The world premiere of the opera is April 26. | Photo by Chris Brown
The production, based on a novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, is the final performance this season for the School of Music Opera Program.
The story follows a starship crew traveling to colonize a distant planet, the trip taking so long it consumes several generations before the goal is reached. The crew grapples with issues of confinement and mortality, and must reassess its very mission after members adopt a religion founded during the trip.
“Science fiction plays such a huge role in movies, which have a lot in common with opera,” Taylor said. “So it seems natural to have a science-fiction opera.”
Taylor, who teaches courses in theory and composition, was inspired to create the opera after reading the novella in 2002. (It’s the final story in the collection “The Birthday of the World.”) As part of opening night of the world-premiere, Le Guin and playwright Marcia Johnson, who wrote the opera’s libretto, will join Taylor for a post-performance discussion.
“She is such a sophisticated storyteller, able to combine heady concepts with human urgency,” he said of Le Guin. “Her language is so beautiful.”
It’s Taylor’s first hall-sized performance, though he and Johnson collaborated on a short chamber opera, commissioned by Tapestry New Opera Works, of Toronto. Still, he feels confident being surrounded by a competent production crew.
“With today’s technology, it’s possible to do lots of amazing things with projections and staging,” he said. “David Warfel and Regina Garcia, the main designers for the production, are incredibly talented; Ricardo Herrera, the stage director, has a really penetrating insight into the story and he’s a wonderful singer, so he understands how to work with opera singers.”
Taylor will be satisfied, however, only if the audience leaves entertained.
“If it gives them something to think about, that’s icing on the cake,” he said. “I just hope people like it. I’ve had to stop myself from revising it any more because if I do, the singers won’t be able to memorize everything. It’s been a long journey, but it’s exciting to see it launch.”
Taylor worked hard to contain the opera. “It’s just under two hours of music, so with a 20-minute intermission, people will be out the door before 10 p.m.,” Taylor said.
The cast, all of whom perform dual roles, has been rehearsing since March, following a production of “The Barber of Seville.” The New Music Ensemble will be conducted by Robert W. Rumbelow, the director of bands. Artistic director for the production is Eduardo Diazmuñoz, a professor of music and the director of opera studies.
Although the work is sung in English, it is presented with supertitles.