The Orquesta Sinfónica del Estado de México, conducted by Rodrigo Macías González will stage Paul Alan Barker’s dramatic work QIQI in eight performances in front of audiences unaccustomed to concerts or theatre at the orchestra’s home, the Sala Felipe Villanueva, Toluca, México from 25 – 28 February 2020.
Staged in collaboration with the international theatre company Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes, it forms part of a project with an educational aim, following examples such as Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf or Every Good Boy Deserves Favour by Stoppard and Previn. Reflecting a changing world this new work seeks to identify itself with a wider cultural field than those models, beyond the confines of language and avoiding translation and subtitles.
QIQI involves 5 actors, a dancer and a choir as well as a 70-piece orchestra. The title reflects the stories told by the actors who represent Quichote, Ibeji, Quetzalcoatl and Iambe. Depending where the work is performed, some of these characters may be known by audiences:
Quichote is the creation of the 17th century author Cervantes;
Ibeji are Yoruban twin deities;
Quetzalcoatl is the plumed serpent from Meso-American mythology
Iambe is the Greek Goddess of laughter
These characters tell their stories, illuminated by the Sun and the Moon. But the twist is that all their stories are told without words, not replaced by mime, but through a pretend language, akin to the tradition of commedia dell´arte or the grammelot invented by Dario Fo and Franco Raime, and, of course, the music. Composer Paul Barker and the stage director Claudio Valdés Kuri worked similarly in their last collaboration, El Gallo, an opera for six actors and two string quartets without words. El Gallo has received over 100 performances all over the world since its premiere in 2009, and told stories through music and invented words.
Review of El Gallo (CD):
It is quite a task to review a work which is as visual as it is aural. Paul Barker has created a piece which defies critical, listening and staging conventions. The reviews and the accompanying notes make it clear that it must be seen as well as heard. On first hearing I thought: “good grief, an opera as composed by Anna Russell!!!” Vocally, it sounded like a poorly constructed parody of all possible operatic foibles. It was amusing—ridiculing singers, accompanists, directors, composers and opera itself. And then, abruptly you find unexpectedly beautiful vocalizing, if not vocalise. Much ink has been spilled pointing to the fact the text or “libretto” is made up of nonsense words. Exactly, like much opera in any language sounds to one who does not know that language.. However, not having to try to “understand”, the text frees the listener to concentrate on sound. This opera is about sounds given meaning by the characters’ body language (entirely missing from the CD, for obvious reasons). But the mood changes abruptly when one gets to Scene 4, La revelación. Each protagonist is granted an “epiphany” which reveals the truly operatic nature of both the voices and the score. I think I detected various musical and singing styles, performed in a gobbledygook which does sound like opera’s most popular languages, literally a musical “global village”. I found it entirely refreshing. This is an ambitious work, pushing opera to its dramatic and comedic roots. In other words, I love it! Kudos to the brave souls, singers, musicians and above all, Paul Barker. Bring it out on DVD!!
Composers Edition is proud to present a range of works by Paul Alan Barker, including El Gallo, which is available through our website.