Musical Theatre

5 Acoustic Theater and Spatial Art

After producing some early serial compositions, Roger Reynolds began in 1961 to compose an opera for the ONCE Festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan, based on Wallace Stevens’s famous poem The Emperor of Ice Cream. Because the poem offers no guidelines for a visible action on stage, Reynolds composed the stage positions and movements of the eight singers as abstract movements in space that represented one parameter of his score. It was the first time a spatial presentation had been achieved by purely musical means; the stage was no longer the fixed location for the staging but was only constituted by the performance of the music. This model of an acoustic stage play marked a turn away from the traditional form of visual theater. Reynolds initially pursued this concept further in his choral work Blind Men (1966) on a text by Herman Melville until finally, in the Voicespace series for voice and tape (1975 onward), the stage is depicted as merely an inward event. A comparable model also characterized Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room for voice and tape (1970).[11] The objective of the piece is to develop the musical qualities of a space acoustically, by repeatedly recording a predetermined text on tape and playing it back until the resonance frequencies of the room overlap more and more and the language ultimately breaks down into spatial sound. This compositional method was used in ever new variations and derivations in different contexts, such as Salvatore Sciarrino’s Lohengrin of 1984, an ‘azione invisibile per voce, strumenti e coro’ (invisible action for voice, instruments, and choir), which turns the reality of the stage into a figure from a dream; Luigi Nono’s invisible dramma in musica Prometeo (1981–1985); and Adriana Hölszky’s opera without text Tragoedia (1997).