Recently, numbered


31. Why I returned to this beautiful Italian aria
February 14, 2011, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Dance, Film, Literature, Music

Back in 2005, I was listening to the Diva soundtrack just one of those CDs I was thumbing through at the library. One of the tracks, “Ebben? Ne andrò lontana,” from the Italian opera hit me immediately.  I found it morbidly spectacular but had absolutely no context for it. So I watched the movie (my reaction to Diva is a whole other story) and read about the opera and the Austrian story on which it was based, the 19th century serial novel Vulture-Wally by Wilhelmine von Hillern.

So with all it’s loaded context, I decided to use the aria for a dance parody I was making.  This was all a part of my MFA thesis project about the hysterical female body (more loaded subject matter). There were handkerchiefs coming out of bras set against a huge bronzy wall, behind which loose-haired ladies would come and go.

In short, it was a study in melodrama that ultimately failed, but not in that openly embarrassing way. It was just so difficult to make, and when I watched it from the auditorium, it felt simultaneously bloodless and overwrought.  I couldn’t talk about the piece in my thesis defense without crying.  My professors were flummoxed by my stifled tears. Don’t you like what you make?, they were asking with their eyes. I fumbled for words. I was suppose to be defending my work and here I was, slightly unraveling. I did not realize at the time that trying to articulate my own sense of failure would be the healthy way to move on.

So I decided to put that piece and that song out of mind. In retrospect, I should have realized that impossibility. Denial is never a good option and also, once you study a thing, you tend to run into it everywhere. I cringed slightly when I heard the aria in A Single Man and noticed it was also prominent in Philadelphia, which I very belatedly watched several years back.  (In film, this song has become strongly attached to gay men contemplating their deaths… but moving on.)

So I’ve come back to the song, the opera and the Vulture-Wally story about a tragically heroic tomboy fighting the ice gods and the townspeople in the Tyrol region of Austria.  I’ve wondered why I’ve needed  to return to this material – to accept (un-deny) a little piece of my own history perhaps? And to have new eyes and ears to see and hear it? Yes and yes. Since it began with a song, I’ve now turned to singing. Working with composer Carl Riehl, we’re taking bits and scenes from Vulture-Wally and casting them into an assortment of song motifs from the late 19th century on into the present. So far, we’ve made a Polka (which turns into a Waltz), a smokey little Motown piece, and now we’re working on a Minimalist piece for a dance. Next is  Go-Go.

I look forward to sharing them soon, live and recorded.

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