Backwards from Winter: an operatic monodrama for soprano, e-cello, computer and video. Libretto by Juanita Rockwell, music by Douglas Knehans
BACKWARDS FROM WINTER is a portrait of one woman’s journey through loss. We begin with the frozen landscape of grief in winter, traveling backwards through the sharp pain of losing her beloved in an autumn storm, through the summer’s heat of their passion, to the heart-opening birth of their love in spring.
Structured as a fractured inquiry into grief and healing, the narrative strips away layers of memory as it moves backwards in time. Images emerge with their own peculiar logic, just as certain details of traumatic memory remain vivid while others fade away. The character of Woman is bound by the specific events of her loss, even as the emotional intensity is fused with seasonal rhythms of time.
The poetry for each scene of the libretto is formed in three Tanka verses, a Japanese precursor to Haiku with a syllabic structure of 5-7-5-7-7. This form is used in each scene and was the strict structure we imposed on the literary conception of the work. Each scene is linked by a further Tanka to the next scene so the whole monodrama has a 3-1-3-1-3-1-3-1 structure with the last deconstructed Tanka acting as a postlude. The music was conceived in similarly strict fashion using only the resources of electric cello, electronically processed soprano voice and computerized sound. The cellist also sings, hums and intones words, lending an extra layer of dramatic friction to the music, as does audio filtering and/or processing of the soprano voice.
The opera premiered in May 2018 at Symphony Space in NYC; produced by the Center for Contemporary Opera and directed by Jennifer Williams. The following month, Foundation IHOS Amsterdam produced a second production as part of the Dark Mofo Festival and directed by Konstantin Koukias.
CD available from Ablaze Records: https://www.ablazerecords.net