“Oceanic Verses” from Paola Prestini, Top Crowdsourced Composer at Mass MoCA

Composer Paola Prestini in Lecce at Sound Res. Photo by Erika Harrsch.

Paola Prestini is a fast rising composer according to a Crowdsourced survey. And Mass MoCA has her new work Oceanic Verses locked in for a full performances this May 18th.

In the survey, conducted by Q2 and NPR Music, they looked for those pieces which were shaping our contemporary musical scene and defining what it means to be a composer in the 21st century. On Facebook, Twitter and the aggregating pages on Q2 and NPR Music, almost 800 suggestions arrived. With much debate and awareness of such a list’s limitations, they narrowed the field down to 100 composers, and along with such familiar names as Nico Muhly, Sarah Kirkland Snider and Tyondai Braxton, there was the incomparable Paola Presstini

This season, we’re completing my opera, Oceanic Verses in several different residency programs: the Hermitage Residency, Sound Res (in Italy), the LMCC Governors Island Intensive Residency, culminating our work at MASS MoCA. Oceanic Verses will culminate in performances at the Kennedy Center with the Washington Chorus & Novus NY conducted by Julian Wachner and then in NY on the River to River festival with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus joining during summer 2012. – Paola Presstini

So we are lucky here in the Berkshires to get a first glimpse and earful of this creation as Mass MoCA presents a work-in-progress showing on Friday, May 18, 2012, at 8 PM in the Hunter Center.

The Story of Oceanic Verses

Paola Prestini’s new multimedia opera Oceanic Verses is set against the backdrop of the Mediterranean Sea, The opera is about people who flee and people who stay, people who sail to escape and people who sail to arrive. Rather than a linear narrative, Oceanic Verses follows the arcs of four characters: a Sailor (folk singer Claudio Prima) who searches for lost songs; a Scholar (improviser Helga Davis) investigating immigration who loses a suitcase filled with research; a Peasant (soprano Nancy Allen Lundy) who seeks a better life for her future children; and a Soldier (Christopher Burchett) who crawls over land to bury what he loves. The characters are united by a yearning to uncover a fading past in southern Italy.

Ed Yim of the New York City Opera said the VOX 2011 performance of the oratorio of Oceanic Verses “made the hair on the back of my neck stand up for the sheer visceral pleasure of the musical language.”

The Twists

Each of the four characters in Oceanic Verses has a double – an abstraction of his/her essence or inner life – who appears in an accompanying film backdrop by Hossaini which is projected throughout the performance on a triptych screen. In the film, the celebrated Italian dancer Emio Greco plays the Soldier, and actors from the Salento region of Italy play the Peasant. Prima and Davis play both the on-screen and on-stage versions of their characters.

Oceanic Verses combines fragments of music that date as far back as 3000 BC, field samples from research in the Salento region, and Prestini’s original music. Di Novelli created the libretto by weaving her own original work together with a selection of archetypal Italian texts from songs and poems written by Vittoria Colonna, Giuseppe Ungaretti, Dante Alighieri, and Aleandro Aleardi. The songs are in dialects spoken throughout history in Italy, including Byzantine Greek, Arab, Sephardic Jewish Hebrew, and Bourbon Spanish.

The Evolution and Creators

Prestini and director Kevin Newbury, plus singers Claudio Prima, Helga Davis (The Love Show, 2011, Mass MoCA), Nancy Allen Lundy, and Christopher Burchett, as well as filmmaker Ali Hossaini, librettist Donna Di Novelli, and producer Beth Morrison (69 South, 2007, and Maya Beiser’s cello opera Elsewhere, 2011, MASS MoCA) present the work-in-progress after a week-long residency in which they will continue to expand the piece from an oratorio to an evening-length production. Designers include Vita Tzykun, scenic and costumes; S. Katy Tucker, projections; and Bruce Steinberg, lighting.

Paola tattoo VIA designed by Michela Prestini.

About Paola Prestini

Paola Prestini is the director of the non-profit multimedia collective VisionIntoArt, which has commissioned countless emerging artists and has performed worldwide since 1999. Named one of the “top 100 composers in the world under 40” by NPR, Prestini has created a body of work celebrated by critics and fellow artists. Terry Riley has said that her music “speaks from the heart and inspires.”

Prestini has been commissioned by Carnegie Hall, Kronos Quartet, MATA, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the New York City Opera (VOX). Helga Davis, Rinde Eckert, and Hila Plitmann are among the numerous esteemed soloists who have performed her work, which has been presented in prestigious venues worldwide, including Zankel Hall, The Kitchen, The Whitney Museum, Le Poisson Rouge, PS 122, and the Stone in New York; Etnafest, Milano’s Teatro Manzoni, and Sound Res in Italy; and BEMUS in Belgrade, Serbia. Recent projects include works at BAM, the Kennedy Center, the Barbican Centre, the Harare International Festival, and the Krannert Center. She has collaborated with artists Maya Beiser, Erika Harrsch, Cornelius Dufallo, Gabriel Kahane, and Julian Crouch.

Oceanic Verses is commissioned by VisionIntoArt, produced by Beth Morrison Projects, and is a VisionIntoArt and Beth Morrison Projects world premiere.

Talkback Follows Performance

As is customary with Mass MoCA’s work-in-progress showings, the audience is invited to become part of the creative process by offering feedback and asking questions of the artists during a Q&A after the showing.

Next up: David Byrne and Faatboy Slim’s Here Lies Love.

This presentation is part of a series of work-in-progress showings. The next showing, from June 21 – 24, will be Here Lies Love, a workshop of an immersive theater piece unlike any other, combining dance, song, narrative, and video montages, with music by David Byrne and Fatboy Slim. Here Lies Love is presented with support from Williamstown Theater Festival and The Public Theater.

Tickets and Details

Oceanic Verses will be presented as a work-in-progress on Friday, May 18, at 8 PM in MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center. Drinks from the MASS MoCA bar and dinner and snacks from Lickety Split are available before the show. Tickets for Oceanic Verses are $15 and $10 for students. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA Box Office located off Marshall Street in North Adams, open from 11 AM – 5 PM closed Tuesdays. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 during Box Office hours, or purchased online at www.massmoca.org.

About Mass MoCA

Mass MoCA, the largest center for contemporary visual and performing arts in the United States, is located off Marshall Street in North Adams on a 13-acre campus of renovated 19th-century factory buildings. MASS MoCA is an independent 501(c)(3) whose operations and programming are funded through admissions and commercial lease revenue, corporate and foundation grants, and individual philanthropy. Except for an initial construction grant from the Commonwealth and competitive program and operations grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Massachusetts Cultural Council, MASS MoCA is privately funded: 90% of annual operating revenues are from earned revenues, membership support, and private gifts and grants.

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