Backwards from Winter is a new multimedia (video/electronic music) monodrama for soprano, electric cello, computer music, and video—a collaboration between librettist Juanita Rockwell and composer Douglas Knehans. The work has two premieres, New York and Australia, featuring separate productions and casts.
Lovely write-up in the NEW YORKER Magazine!!
Nice article in OPERAWIRE about the CCOs 35th season including the world premier of BACKWARDS FROM WINTER!
Tremendously interesting interview with NY Premier director Jennifer Williams. An awesome listen!!
Lovely Interview with Librettist Juanita Rockwell!
Nice article about BACKWARDS FROM WINTER in THE VILLAGE NEWS from the College Conservatory of Music at the University of Cincinnati.
Backwards from Winter by Douglas Knehans Center for Contemporary Opera at Symphony Space By: Susan Hall - May 26, 2018
Backwards from Winter
Monodrama for Soprano, Electric Cello, Computer Sound and Video
by Douglas Knehans (music)
Juanita Rockwell (libretto)
Center for Contemporary Opera
Leonard Nimoy Theater
New York, New York
May 25, 2018
Backwards from Winter had its premier as part of the New York Opera Fest. All the parts that make up opera are unified on stage to create an enormously satisfying theatrical experience.
Monodrama may mean one voice, and Backwards from Winter spoke as one. There are two characters on stage. The wonderful German soprano Anke Briegel is central to be sure, but she is in duet with cellist Jeffrey Krieger, who, as part of the opera, dares to speak with her even as he bows his electronic instrument. While Krieger may be more closely tied to the white storage boxes piled up on the floor, he is very much part of the big scene which encompasses four seasons, moving from winter to spring.
Changes in the season are reflected in tree branches laden with snow, fiery floating red leaves, back through the billowing white clouds of summer which are ticked off finally by purple flowers and then the blues of early spring and nature at its most passionate.
The sound cloud that is created includes at beginning a series of electronic chords which are regal, almost religious. Against this the cello lines, harshened by acoustics, often grate. The enhanced soprano voice is pure as a bell, clear and clearly magnified.
Briegel is an expressive performer. She can bring the feeling of anxiety and pain to the long notes she holds. Yet she still retains their beauty. Particularly through gesture, she outlines her mood, imprecating, collapsing, even praying over some carton at one moment. She cuts an arresting figure, at first robed and eventually in an elegant white spring dress. Enraptured by spring and her love, this memory now dominates after seasons of loss.
The blending of many forms is so successful that only in quiet reflection do you realize how much goes on. Videos by Yee Eun Nam are striking. Emily Clarkson's lighting design creates the right balance between performers and the running images.
We are under a canopy of nature, sometimes melancholy and at others joyous. Briegel’s clarity of tone is amplified. None of the electronic music turned shrill. Composer Knehans has a sense of the right balance between what is human and what is not. The sometimes abrasive cello lines fit perfectly in the sound cloud.
The opera was confidently performed. Winding backwards from grief to the joy of spring and awakening leaves both the artists and the audience in a good place.
So thrilled to see this posting by the Merola Opera about the US premiere of Backwards from Winter. Both Jennifer and Konstantin Koukias (Amsterdam based director working on Australian and Asian premieres of the work) will use an immersive video environment for the work as Juanita and I had imagined. But how different it will be in the creative hands of these two outstanding directors. So looking forward to working with them!