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N+1, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal Reflect on Robert Ashley, “Perfect Lives”, and “Vidas Perfectas” at the Whitney

16 Apr 2014

vidasperfectas

Vidas Perfectas premieres tomorrow at the Whitney Biennial and many have taken this opportunity to reflect on Robert Ashley’s legacy and the great works he left behind, particularly this recent three-opera series at the Whitney.

In an article for The Wall Street Journal, Corinne Ramey discusses with director Alex Waterman what drew him to Ashley’s operas:

“That’s the genius of Bob’s work,” said Mr. Waterman, in the Williamsburg apartment he shares with his wife Elisa Santiago, who performs in “Vidas Perfectas,” and their toddler son. “His idea of an opera is that it’s characters in a landscape telling stories musically.”

For Mr. Waterman, a major attraction of Ashley’s work is the idea of music as a social and collaborative process, where a less formal interpretation—like that of the performance collective Varispeed, which produced a site-specific “Perfect Lives” in the Catskills—is just as valid as Mr. Waterman’s more formal one.

“I’m interested in music not just as a way of organizing sound,” said Mr. Waterman, “but as a way of thinking about who we are when we gather together, and how we listen and speak together, and how we produce things together.”

Paul Grimstad focuses on the importance of Ashley’s Perfect Lives: A Television Opera for N+1 Magazine. An excerpt:

While the operas for television might seem yet another way in which the calculatedly outrageous became a commonplace of 20th-century art, Ashley’s work looks more like an ingenious trick of defamiliarization whereby that quaint banality “television” is transformed into a medium for opera. In the end, I think, Ashley was mostly interested in the sound of Americans talking to each other, or talking to themselves: insistent, often indistinct, never meaningless, demotic. In these voices can be heard something revelatory and strange, as if someone took the lid off life and let us see the works.

Finally, Steve Smith eulogizes Ashley in The New York Times. Finding comfort in the fact that Waterman’s new productions of Ashley’s work manage to both be faithful to Ashley’s vision while cleverly building upon them. An excerpt:

What I have appreciated most about previous reconceptions of Ashley’s operas was the extent to which newcomers found fresh possibilities. Already in “Crash,” broadened horizons were evident. Ms. Bell’s inquisitive “yeah” was not Mr. Pinto’s hipster aside. Mr. McCorkle’s stammer was more pronounced than Ms. Kidambi’s. Ms. Simons and Mr. Ruder employed distinct hues of wistfulness. If the specter of death haunted this wistful, articulate swan song, prospects of preservation and renewal were also at hand.

After extensive filming on location in Marfa, Vidas Perfectas will debut at the Whitney Biennial tomorrow, April 17, 2014. Please join us here in Far West Texas as the production returns to Marfa and El Paso from July 10-14.