calling: an opera of forgiveness

First Floor Theatre

Septermber 12 - 28, 2008
Thursday - Saturday at 8:00pm
Sunday at 2:30pm & 8:00pm
*Sun, 9/14 at 2:30pm ONLY

Tickets $25

Written & directed by Wickham Boyle
Composed by Douglas Geers
Music Direction by Edith Hirshtal
Choreographed by Edisa Weeks

Read NY Times article featuring Wickham Boyle

***Calling will be featured on WNET Channel 13's Sunday Arts news on Sun, Sept 7 at noon!
The news will be posted on their website after Sunday

SundayArts is a new online and on-air arts destination from Thirteen/WNET. Each week at noon on Thirteen and Thirteen HD, and online anytime, SundayArts features world-class performance, museum and gallery exhibits, artist profiles, the latest local arts news, incisive blog commentary, and more.

Read NY Times' Review!

Calling: An Opera of Forgiveness is conceived and directed by Wickham Boyle from her book, A Mother’s Essays from Ground Zero, with an electro-acoustic score by award-winning composer Douglas Geers. Calling follows the up-close experience of one TriBeCa family on September
11, 2001, and the month immediately following it. The work features a set by designer/architect
Marty Kapell, music direction by Edith Hirshtal, choreography by Edisa Weeks, and lighting
design by Burke Brown. The multiracial cast includes soprano Nicole Tori (mother), bassbaritone
Roland Burks (father), soprano Nique Haggerty (daughter) and boy soprano Jesse Murray (son). The live chamber ensemble, composed of Jay Hassler (clarinet), Edith Hirshtal (piano), Chihiro Shibayama (percussion), Maja Cerar (violin), William Martina (cello) and Douglas Geers (computers), will be conducted by Hiroya Miura.

“There isn’t a more iconic, dramatic moment in our modern history than September 11th,” says
Boyle who, last year, began collaborating with Geers to transform her book of highly personal and moving essays into the operatic medium. Told from the point of view of a mother (a longtime downtown resident), Calling captures the reactions and reflections of one family witnessing the attack on the World Trade Center at close range, and the path they take to move from chaos to recovery and hope. The opera’s overture begins with the back and forth “calling” of three distinct voices – the family (including children and friends), the Workers (the rescuers and those in the Towers) and the Antagonists (unseen) – each relying on rhythm and pattern to create a sense of urgency. As the musical drama progresses, dissonance moves to harmony.

In Calling, acoustic instruments, cinematic sound design (buzzing, chirping, droning, whirring
and clanking), and electronic processing (including the use of Nintendo Wii remotes) combine to
create a vibrant textural flow that evokes bristling urban actions, feelings of fear and loss, and
more contemplative states. Geers states: “The characters’ voices flutter through this mix as if
jazz soloists through fast chord changes – repeating motives, reacting to the instrumental
material, and seeking tonal anchors amid the shifting harmonic ground.”

Over the last eighteen months, segments of Calling have been workshopped at the Spark Festival
in Minneapolis, MN (February 2008), Princeton University, NJ (May 2008), the Sonic Divergence festival at Northwestern University, IL (April 2008), and Cornelia Street Café in NYC (June and November 2007). La MaMa’s presentation marks the first time the work is shown in its entirety to the public.

more info about the show

***In support of Calling: An Opera of Forgiveness, Barnes and Noble is re-releasing the book on which it was based; A Mother’s Essays from Ground Zero. ***
Between September 5th and September 7th ten percent of net sales will be donated to La MaMa if the voucher (below) is shown at the time of the purchase*.

Click here for the voucher

*The following transactions are not included in bookfair totals: the purchase of gift cards, membership cards, and café consumables.  Non-Profit and Business Account Discounts may not be applied to bookfair purchases.

Also, please join Barnes and Noble and La MaMa friends and family to hear Wickham Boyle speak on September 5th at 7:00 at the 97 Warren Street Location.   


Wickham Boyle (Concept, Libretto, Direction) began her career at La MaMa ETC. After numerous theatrical diversions working at Lincoln Center, the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and extensive international touring, she returned in 1983 to be executive director, where she learned experimental producing at the side of founder Ellen Stewart. Boyle commissioned work from Carter Burwell, Tom Judson, Bob McGrath, Bill T. Jones, The Blue Man Group, and the Urban Bush Women, among others. She has a BA in Anthropology from NYU and an MBA from Yale. Boyle has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship from the Japan Society and the Cuban /American Writers Guild. She is the founder of CODE magazine and a former editor of THRIVEnyc. She contributes to National Geographic Traveler, Budget Travel, Uptown, Gotham, The New York Times, and New York Magazine. Her book, A Mother’s Essays From Ground Zero, was a fundraiser for the downtown schools attended by her two children. /

Burke Brown (Lighting Designer) has created design for The Brothers Size (NYSF-Public Theater, NYC; The Studio Theatre, DC; The Abbey Theater, Dublin); Going Down Swingin’ (NY Musical Theater Festival); John Selya’s La Voix (Joyce Soho); Aszure Barton’s A Traveling Show (Baryshnikov Arts Center); The Song for New York: What Women Do While Men Sit Knitting (Mabou Mines, Associate Designer); and Lulu (Yale Rep), among others. Brown is the 2008 Artist in Residence for Lighting Design for Ars Nova. He received his BA from Guilford College and MFA from Yale School of Drama, and is a member of Wingspace.

American born bass-baritone Roland Burks (the Father) has performed extensively throughout the United States and Europe, with such companies as Houston Grand Opera, Tri-Cities Opera, Connecticut Opera, The Phoenix Symphony, Teatro Real (Madrid, Spain), Ernen Festival of Tomorrow, (Ernen, Switzerland), Bregenz Festival (Bregenz, Austria), and International Opera Theater in Umbria, Italy. He is the recipient of numerous vocal awards, including top honors in the Midwest region of the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions.

Douglas Geers (Composer) works extensively with technology in composition, performance, and multimedia collaborations. He has won numerous grants and awards, including a 2007 McKnight Composer Fellowship, a Fulbright Scholarship, two Composers Commissioning Project prize from the American Composers Forum, the Roth-Thomson award for "Impressive project for musical composition," and others from sources including the Experimental studio der Heinrich-Strobel-Stiftung des Südwestrundfunks e.v. (Germany), the Zürich Hochschule für Musik und Theater (Switzerland), Meet the Composer, ASCAP, NYSCA, the Ditson Fund, Columbia University, the Argosy Foundation, and the Mellon Foundation. Geers is currently Associate Professor of Music at the University of Minnesota’s School of Music and Director of the studios for Sound, Technology, and Research (STRUM). He is also the founder and director of the annual Spark Festival of Electronic Music and Arts, and a member of the electroacoustic improvisation group Sønreel.

A native of Sendai, Japan, Hiroya Miura (Conductor), has been active as a composer, conductor, and performer in the U.S. and Canada. Feeling equally as an insider and outsider to Japanese court music and European modernist music, Miura has composed works for Speculum Musicae, New York New Music Ensemble, American Composers Orchestra, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, and members of Reigakusha (Gagaku ensemble based in Tokyo), as well as performed in venues such as Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, Merkin Hall, Annenberg Center, and Smithsonian Institution’s Freer Gallery. He is a founding member of the electronic improvisation unit, NoOneReceiving, whose debut album from the Grain of Sound has won critical acclaim in Europe and the United States. Miura has received commissioning grants and fellowships from the Mellon, Jerome, Whiting, and Rohm Foundations, the Atlantic Center for the Arts, and the American Composers Forum. He holds D.M.A. degree from Columbia University, and he is Assistant Professor of Music at Bates College, and directs the College Orchestra.

Austrian born Edith Hirshtal (Music Director and Pianist) has been heard in concert halls throughout the United States, including The Philadelphia Academy of Music and Lincoln Center in New York City. She has appeared with principal members of The Philadelphia Orchestra, the New York Metropolitan Opera Company, the Philadelphia Opera Company, the Sequoia Quartet and with San Francisco’s Women’s Philharmonic, under the baton of JoAnn Falleta. Hirshtal was a prizewinner in the William Kappel International Piano Competition, was awarded the Galica Prize by the Paderewski Foundation of New York City, and was a semi finalist in The Young Concert Artists’ International Auditions. She is professor emeritus of The University of California, Long Beach.

Prior to his training as an architect, Marty Kapell (Designer) worked extensively in theater, dance and opera in a variety of capacities including set designer, lighting design, director and stage manger. He was the Artistic Director of the Second Company of the Williamstown Theater Festival for several seasons and worked as set designer under Wilford Leach for the ETC Company of La MaMa. In dance he was the Production Stage Manger for Twyla Tharp's company and his opera experience includes directing La Dafne for the New York Pro Musica Antiqua. Marty is currently Senior Partner of WASA/Studio A, a multi-discipline architectural design firm.

Boy soprano Jesse Burnside Murray, age 11 (the Son), is a cello student of Professor Vladimir Panteleyev at the Special Music School in New York. In 2008, Jesse was awarded a cash prize at the International Russian Rotary Children Music Competition in Moscow, and a 2nd Place at the International Competition Violoncello in Liezen Austria. In 2007, he won 1st Place at the Wagner College Young Musician Competition in New York and performed in Lucca Italy at the Ducal Palace in the International Academy of Music Gala. In 2007 Jesse also performed the Vivaldi Concert for Cello as the soloist with the Chernigov Philharmonic in the Ukraine. Jesse has been a member of the Metropolitan Children’s Chorus since the age of six. In 2006 and 2007 he was the Second Spirit in the English version of The Magic Flute and has performed in Hansel and Gretel, Carmen, Tosca, and La Bohème.

Soprano Nicole Tori (the Mother) is an accomplished singer of opera, oratorio and musical theater. Her credits include Musetta in La Bohème (New York Opera Forum), Oscar in Un Ballo in Maschera (NYOF), Despina in Cosi fan Tutte (Mannes), Najade in Ariadne auf Naxos Dell’Arte Opera Ensemble), and Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music (Millbrook Playhouse). International credits include L’Elisir d’Amore (Urbania, Italy), and the Asian tour of The Sound of Music. Nicole performed as a finalist in the Classical Productions Vocal Competition at Weill Recital Hall (Carnegie Hall) and studied voice performance/opera at Wheaton College (IL) and New England Conservatory of Music.

Edisa Weeks (Choreographer) is the Director and Choreographer for DELIRIOUS DANCES. Her work, which merges theater and dance, has been performed in a variety of venues including swimming pools, storefront windows, senior centers and various living rooms, as well as at Chashama Theater, Emory University, Jacob’s Pillow, Works & Process at the Guggenheim Museum, The Massachusetts International Festival of the Arts, The National Black Arts Festival, and Summerstage’s Dance Festival, and internationally in Canada, England, Germany, Italy, Japan and Spain. Weeks has received a New York Foundation for the Arts Choreographic Fellowship, and Brooklyn Art Council grants. Raised in Uganda, Papua New Guinea and Brooklyn, NY, she holds an MFA in choreography from NYU and a BA from Brown University, and currently teaches at Princeton University.

CALLING's presentation was made possible with the support of the Argosy Foundation, the
American Composers Forum, the Jerome Foundation, and many, many donations from friends
and lovers of opera.

A September Day Like No Other for A Downtown Family

by Steve Smith
New York Times, Sept 15, 2008

Depicting the unimaginable on a theater stage is a daunting prospect. In the original production of the opera “Doctor Atomic,” the director Peter Sellars and the composer John Adams represented the detonation of the first nuclear bomb with an ominous countdown, a flash of light and a profound silence. For some viewers this solution was a striking evocation of an event literally too overwhelming for the human mind to process. Others found it a disappointing cop-out.

Something similar happens in “Calling: An Opera of Forgiveness,” a new work based on “A Mother’s Essays From Ground Zero,” written by Wickham Boyle after the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Ms. Boyle, a writer, director and producer, created “Calling” with the composer Douglas Geers, who writes for acoustic instruments and electronics. The work received its first complete staging on Friday night at La MaMa E.T.C. in the East Village, where Ms. Boyle was once the executive director.

In the first scene, “Blue Sky,” singers enter the bare stage area from throughout the theater, intoning the words of the title over a tremulous accompaniment. Adults bustle through their morning business; a schoolteacher, portrayed by Gretchen Garvin, calls out the names of her students, who scamper merrily among the grown-ups.

A tense undercurrent in the music builds to a sudden whine from Mr. Geers’s computer. As faces turn upward, sounds cease, and overhead lights go out. The cast is frozen in silhouette against a somber, blue-lighted backdrop. After an extended silence the vocalists stagger into motion, to fumbling lines on violin and cello.

Rather than trying to portray the unthinkable scale of Sept. 11, “Calling” focuses primarily on one downtown family: a mother (Nicole Tori), a father (Roland Burks) and their daughters: a teenager (Nique Haggerty) and a child (Madison Pappas). The production is spare to an extreme, with no scenery or costumes and few props. Burke Brown’s lighting design is basic but effective; Edisa Weeks’s choreography depicts both panic and aimless confusion.

Mr. Geers’s music, a tonal vocabulary punctuated with fidgets and squeals, aptly conveys contradictory moods, though it seldom asserts a character as personal as that of Ms. Boyle’s words. Several scenes feature the wordless chants and sighs characteristic of much post-Philip Glass opera.

“In the Apartment,” in which the mother and father debate retrieving their younger daughter from a school near the towers, verges on musical-theater melodrama. In “Empty Socket” and “The Clean Up,” family members and relief workers declaim lines rather than singing them. A small ensemble, positioned to one side of the stage area and conducted by Hiroya Miura, played with polish and confidence. Another conductor, Carl Bettendorf, helped to coordinate the vocalists from a seat near the opposite wall.

The singing was variable in quality but generally respectable; a few unbalanced ensemble passages will probably improve with repetition. Minor rough edges aside, “Calling” admirably translates Ms. Boyle’s singular observations of horror and hope into a genuinely touching theatrical experience.


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