Pasa Previews One man’s madness; Two brothers tied up in bows
Chatter, Sept. 14
An opera for one singer may sound like a lunatic idea, but it has a long history — the earliest examples date back to the 1760s — and boasts several famous examples, including Expectation (Erwartung) by Arnold Schoenberg and The Human Voice (La voix humaine )by Francis Poulenc.
The most infamous such monodrama, without a doubt, is Peter Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, which was a succès de scandale when it premiered 50 years ago. The “Mad King” was England’s George III, whose later years were marked by periods of intense physical suffering and mental anguish. In the opera, he tries to teach his finches to perform eight songs with which he’s obsessed, with texts drawn, in part, from the real King George’s manic speeches.
At the 1969 premiere, the six instrumentalists performed in giant birdcages, at times representing the birds and at other times engaging in extended dialogues with the king. The vocal part, in particular, was revolutionary, spanning more than five octaves (two is the normal range in opera) and requiring an enormous range of verbal and nonverbal sounds, ranging from yelps, howls, and grunts to multiple notes sung simultaneously.
is now recognized as a classic of contemporary music theater and it’s coming to SITE Santa Fe on Saturday, Sept. 14, thanks to the indefatigable Chatter ensemble and its co-founder/artistic director/ violinist David Felberg. “When it premiered, it was considered almost unperformable,” Felberg says. “Now our ability to digest this music is much higher than it used to be. There are lots of other pieces just as difficult or harder. It’s certainly still a challenge, though. The whole group will have more than 15 hours of rehearsal together for this 30-minute work.
“We’re performing it semi-staged in one of SITE Santa Fe’s galleries, which has a nice acoustic and an attractive ambiance,” he continues. We’ll probably start with a violin sonata by Handel, who was King George’s favorite composer, and then segue into Eight Songs.”
The fearsome vocal part will be tackled by baritone Michael Hix, an associate professor of voice at the University of New Mexico. His wide-ranging roles include Grosvenor in Patience, Germont in La
traviata, and Nick Shadow in The Rake’s Progress. He’s also the bass soloist in the Santa Fe Symphony’s upcoming Messiah, and a Desert Chorale member for its December concerts.
“Eight Songs for a Mad King has been on my bucket list for 15 or 20 years,” says Hix. “I’m really drawn to