An Untitled Opera Based on the Story of Milli Vanilli
Water Mill, New York
On May 7, 2011, composer Joe Diebes, poet Christian Hawkey, and director David Levine will present fragments of their new opera-in-progress, inspired by Milli Vanilli. To an extent unusual for an opera project, the three artists generate much of their material with performers in a workshop environment. They will leave the residency with a clear sense of the opera's structure as well as scored "pieces" which can then be recorded and used as the basis for future development.
About Milli Vanilli
In 1992, the music industry was rocked by scandal—international pop duet Milli Vanilli were caught lip-synching, months after collecting a Grammy for Best New Artist. Five years later, their awards revoked, their recordings destroyed, their money gone, singer Rob Pilatus died of a drug overdose in Cologne.
About the Opera
The story is classically operatic: a Faustian bargain, a public disgrace, and theft of the human voice. It is also contemporary: technology and human song as well as the fate of artistic ambition in the age of mechanical reproduction. This opera will be experimental and non-linear, but written for trained singers and opera houses. It will engage both the expressive capacities of the human voice and the emotive capacities of technology. It will explore race (one singer was black, one white); nationality (German pop stars, ruined in America); sexuality (the manufacture of pop androgyny); and the formal relations of opera and pop: two men sell their voices for fame and fortune, only to be ruined when they demand their voices back. Central to the piece is the tension between what audio recording can do and the value of musical talent. The opera, like its subject, will be bilingual, containing English and German elements.
About the Artists
Joe Diebes (music concept and score) will continue examining the relationship between classical music genres, virtuosity, and technology. The lead roles will sing acoustically in a powerful operatic style, while the rest of the cast and orchestra will be amplified and electronically enhanced, mulching together elements of classical, pop, and experimental music.
Christian Hawkey (words) will examine the tragedy of originality and authorship by generating the libretto through rehearsal improvisation, and by subjecting raw textual material (famous operas, press conferences, court transcripts, pop songs) to generative composition devices: homophonic translation, textual collage, and remixing.
David Levine (concept and direction) will continue his exploration of tensions between performance and authenticity, artwork and scutwork, pop culture and high culture.