“ Yet opera, which translates to ‘work’ in Italian, doesn't only refer to women in viking helmets singing high notes in a foreign language. The medium officially extends to any dramatic art form in which all parts are sung to instrumental accompaniment, and it's evolved far past the ‘La Bohème’ you dozed off to on your middle school field trip. (No offense, Puccini.) (…)
The artists below are some of our favorite opera innovators, toying with non-linear narratives, unusual instruments and new media, to name a few. Some take inspiration from subject matter we'd never expect to see on an opera stage, from gentrification to bad shroom trips to Milli Vanilli. There are singers, directors, composers and those who roam the spaces in between. Before you claim opera is dead, take a look at some of the most avant-garde players in the game today.
Behold, 14 artists transforming the future of opera: (…)
6. Juliana Snapper
Snapper is a contemporary soprano who combines radical vocal techniques, improvisation and collaboration to push the operatic medium to its extreme limits. In 2009 she starred in ‘You who will emerge from the flood,’ the first ever underwater opera.
Art 21 described her previous performance in PS1's exhibition ‘WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution’:
Snapper’s performance involved her total submersion in a black tank filled with water. Outside on a chilly day on the steps of PS1, she was visible through a large window in the tank that framed her like a picture, as she floated ethereally in a kind of anti-space, dressed in fishnets, furs, a blonde wig and bright red lipstick. Snapper sang underwater for almost an hour, gurgling and shrieking in dissheveled but glamorous distress, into a microphone suspended in the water. She managed to fuse intense discpline, self-inflicted trauma and the desire to communicate through the even the most compromised means, evoking a palpable power and rawness.
“ The opera star has a lot to contend with: the scrutiny of the public eye; the elusive union of voice, body and soul; the pressure to be glamorous whether in the throes of passion or asphyxiation. From the outset, the potential pitfalls are all too numerous. And that’s before you even begin to assess the risk of being hit by a flying corpse.
Yet it’s a genuine concern – and one that takes on a certain immediacy in David McVicar’s current revival of Aida at the Royal Opera House. Along with the customary array of spears, swords, and extravagant headwear, the props list includes a display of hanging cadavers. Casting an ominous shadow over the cast, it’s exactly the kind of conceit to send a ripple of consternation through the auditorium. But like all props, it comes down to artifice, and some rigorous health and safety protocol. (…)
10 weird and wonderful opera props from around the world
(…) 10. An oxygen tank used to enable the performer to breathe, in the underwater opera You Who Will Emerge From the Flood created by LA soprano Juliana Snapper and composer Andrew Infanti as part of the 2009 Queer Up North Festival in Manchester. ”
“ Juliana Snapper is a trained opera singer who uses her voice to ululate at the edge of music, creating visually stunning, highly theatrical performance pieces, combining the sex appeal of 50’s burlesque with futuristic imprisonment scenarios. I recently had the pleasure of seeing one of her performances, Watermouth Coda, at PS1, as a part of Ridykeulous: The Odds Are Against Us, an over-animated panel discussion with special performances that subverts, sabotages and overturns the language commonly used to define feminism and lesbian art. This panel was in conjunction with the current exhibition at PS1 that runs from February 14 through May 12  WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution.
over-animated panel discussion with special performances that subverts, sabotages and overturns the language commonly used to define feminism and lesbian art.
Snapper’s performance involved her total submersion in a black tank filled with water. Outside on a chilly day on the steps of PS1, she was visible through a large window in the tank that framed her like a picture, as she floated ethereally in a kind of anti-space, dressed in fishnets, furs, a blonde wig and bright red lipstick. Snapper sang underwater for almost an hour, gurgling and shrieking in dissheveled but glamorous distress, into a microphone suspended in the water. She managed to fuse intense discipline, self-inflicted trauma and the desire to communicate through the even the most compromised means, evoking a palpable power and rawness. ”
“ V petek ob polnoči je bil v Ljubljani na sporedu eden najbolj nenavadnih in vznemirljivih dogodkov sodobne umetnosti. Gre za podvodno opero Pet sežnjev globoko moj oče leži, ki jo je na fakulteti za šport in v produkciji zavoda Aksioma izvedla ameriška umetnica, performerka in sopranistka Juliana Snapper.
Nekoliko čez polnoč je številno občinstvo vstopilo v dvorano z bazenom. V tišini in temi se je na rahlo valujoči gladini bazena izrisal portret umetnice. Ko se je projekcija ugasnila, se je iz ozadja zaslišal operni glas Juliane Snapper. Prepevala je znano pesem ali balado iz petdesetih let Cry me a River (Izjokaj mi reko). Ob prepevanju se je s počasnim gibanjem približala gledalcem ob bazenu, ki so tedaj lahko opazili, da je oblečena kot diva. V črni obleki in zlatih čevljih z visoko peto se je sklonila in nato po vseh štirih, ne da bi prenehala peti in ne da bi kakovost petja zaradi neugodnega položaja pojenjala, počasi premikala med gledalci ob robu bazena. S tovrstnim gibanjem je počasi prispela do mesta, s katerega se je elegantno spustila v bazen. Nekaj časa se je z gibanjem nog držala na površini in se premikala proti sredini bazena, ob tem pa še vedno prepevala Cry me a River. Nato se je začela potapljati. Njeno petje pri tem ni prenehalo.
S kisikovo bombo, ki jo je čakala pod vodo, je Snapperjeva še producirala operne glasove. Pod vodo je bil namreč mikrofon, ki je njeno pesem razširjal po dvorani. A kultiviranemu opernemu glasu so se pod vodo priključili še šumi bazena, globine in, kadar je splavala na površje po vdih, tudi brbotanje mehurčkov. Poleg mikrofona, ki je omogočal, da je podvodno opero slišalo občinstvo, se je na platno na robu bazena projiciral tudi obraz pevke, ki ga je pod vodo snemala kamera, tako da smo lahko »od blizu« opazovali, kako se bojuje proti zakonom narave, ko oddaja glas.
Na koncu predstave se je v bazen zvalilo še šest nastopajočih, ki so bili dotlej med občinstvom. Tudi oni so plavajoči mrtvaka začeli spuščati glasove, tokrat odtujene, neprijetne, nekoliko grozljive. Ko so nehali peti, se je performans tudi končal.
Predstava ponuja različno interpretacijo. Lahko bi jo videli kot kritiko opere, kot se na velikih svetovnih odrih predvaja danes. Ta nekoliko anahornistična klasična glasbena zvrst je, če sklepamo po čedalje bolj spektakularnih produkcijah in čedalje dražjih vstopnicah, postala eksemplarični primer umetniškega festišizma, Snapperjeva pa opero s poglobitvijo pod vodo iztrga iz te njene slepilne funkcije in jo ohrani v dimenziji opernega glasu, ki je v zanj neprimernih okoliščinah tudi sam postavljen na preizkušnjo.
Performans pa postavlja predvsem nekoliko naivno vprašanje prostora umetnosti. Navajeni smo, da potekata umetniška produkcija in konzumpcija odvijata na kopnem. Z razvijajočimi se tehnologijami umetnost počasi posega tudi na tista področja, ki predstavljajo izziv za »naravno « konstitucijo človeškega telesa, v vesolje in pod vodo. V tem pa ne gre videti pretirane umetniške ekstravagance, ki poskuša iznajti čedalje bolj ekstremne, spektakularne oblike izraza. Nasprotno, umetnost je vselej izzivala utečene predstave o življenju. Tako prodiranje umetnosti na človeku (vsaj za zdaj) neugodna področja ne zadeva le sodobne umetnosti in njenih konceptov, ampak (tudi v luči ekoloških zagat) postaja dvomljiva tudi samoumevnost življenja na kopnem. ”
“ On Friday, at midnight one of the most exciting and unusual events of contemporary art happened in Ljubljana. We are talking about an under water opera Five Fathoms Deep My Father Lies, which was performed at the University for sport by American artist, performer and soprano singer Juliana Snapper and was produced by the organization Aksioma.
Something past midnight, a large number of audience members entered a hall with a swimming pool. In darkness and silence a portrait of the artist was projected onto the slightly wavy surface of the water. When the projection stopped, from a distance the operatic voice of Juliana Snapper was heard. She was singing a well known song or ballad from 50’ies Cry me a River. While singing she approached the audience at the swimming pool moving slowly. Only then we could notice that she was dressed as a diva. In a black dress and golden high heeled shoes she bent over and ended up on all fours, continuing the singing, without the quality of sound changing because of the uncomfortable position, she slowly moved between the audience at the edge of the pool. She arrived at a place, where she elegantly lounged into the water. Still singing Cry me a River, she kept herself on the surface with leg movements and headed towards the middle of the swimming pool. Then she started to dive.
Her singing didn’t stop. With the oxygen tank, which awaited her on the bottom, Snapper kept producing the operatic sound. This was made possible with a microphone that was under water and was spreading her song through the space. But the cultivated operatic voice was underwater joined by noises of the pool, depth, and, when she came to the surface to inhale, the bubbles as well. Apart from the microphone, which enabled the underwater opera to be heard by the audience, the image of the singer’s face was projected on the screen next to the pool, recorded by the camera that was under water, so that we could ‘from close’ observe her struggle with the laws of nature when she was producing the sound. At the end, six more performers that until then had stayed in the audience, rolled into the water. Floating on the surface (as dead bodies) they started to produce sounds as well, this time removed, unpleasant, and almost frightening. When they stopped singing, also the performance ended.
The performance offers different interpretations. We could see it as a critique of opera, as it is today presented on big world stages. This slightly anachronistic classical music form, if we conclude from more and more spectacular productions and increasingly more expensive ticket prices, became an example of artistic fetishism. But Snapper, with immersing the opera into the water, tears it out of this blinding function and preserves it in the dimension of operatic voice, which is, in unsuitable conditions, itself put to the test. The performance poses a slightly naive question about artistic space. We are used to artistic productions being realized and consumed on land. With developing technologies, art slowly intervenes into fields that present a challenge to the ‘natural’ constitution of a human body, in space and in water. And in that, it is not to see extreme artistic extravagance that tries to invent increasingly more radical, spectacular forms of expression. On contrary, art was always challenging the conventional perceptions of life. These ways of art penetrating into uninhabitable areas for human beings (at least for now) don’t only concern contemporary art and its concepts, but position the obviousness of living on land (out of water) under certain doubt. ”
“ Juliana Snapper je z opero odraščala, njen dom v kalifornijskem mestu Albany je bil pod okriljem njene matere, prav tako operne pevke, prepojen z glasbo, a tudi z mračnimi, zločesto zvenečimi toni. Na operne deske je stopila že pri petnajstih in kot izjemno nadarjena sopranistka je izpolnjevala vse pogoje za zagon klasične kariere operne pevke. Vse, z izjemo enega samega, in to ključnega — Juliana Snapper je verjela v opero, ne pa tudi v zloščeno podobo opernega sveta in njegove konvencije.
Med turbulencami v najstniških in dvajsetih letih, ki so jo premetavale od glasbe do tišine, jo vrtinčile od ekstatične ustvarjalnosti do popolne nemoči, se glasbi ni nikoli odpovedala – niti tedaj, ko je glas dobesedno izgubila in se nato prav skozi glas tudi dokončno našla. Po diplomi na glasbenem konservatoriju v Oberlinu je na univerzi v San Diegu dokto- rirala izmuzikologije ter se kot pevka in raziskovalka posvetila še ne odkritim, komaj slišnim in zgolj dotaknjenim dimenzijam zvoka in glasu ter možnostim petja v ekstremnih razmerah. Po performansu Judas Cradle (Judeževa zibka), ki ga je pred tremi leti v Ljubljani uprizorila z Ronom Atheyjem, je minuli teden na bazenu v Športnem parku Kodeljevo nastopila s performansom iz serije Aquatic Opera (Vodna opera), za katerega si je naslov Pet sežnjev globoko moj oče leži sposodila pri ameriški pisateljici Laurie Weeks. Čeprav so se nad bazenom obešeni mikrofoni pokvarili, je tričetrturni performans — ta se je iz petja ob vodi ter sočasni projekciji videa njene sodelavke in partnerice Paule Cronan postopoma prelival v petje nad vodo in zlasti pod njo — napolnil miselni asociativni bazen vprašanj in večinoma začasnih odgovorov, in to ne le o glasu in zvoku, ampak predvsem o tistem, kar je bistvo umetnosti in znanosti — o tem, kako se približati nemogočemu in se ga vsaj dotakniti, če ga že ne doseči.
Odraščali ste z operno glasbo, tudi vaša mati je bila sopranistka; kako to, da niste sledili njeni poti in ste se namesto za konvencionalno operno kariero odločili za radikalne raziskave glasu in vokalne glasbe?
Moja mati je imela konvencionalno pot, ki pa je bila nekajkrat prekinjena — delno zato, ker je imela otroke, ki pa si jih je želela, delno zaradi mučnega partnerskega razmerja, obenem pa se je bojevala z duševno boleznijo in posledično s pomanjkanjem. Hiša, v kateri je bil klavir, je bila vedno napolnjena z glasbo, toda materino življenje je bilo že samo po sebi kritika podobe opernega sveta. Tako tudi jaz, ki sem odraščala v boju z boleznijo in s pomanjkanjem, nisem nikoli mogla sprejeti opere kot dezinfekciranega prostora, ki pripada višjemu razrednemu sloju.
Toda kljub temu ste zelo zgodaj začeli nastopati v klasičnih opernih postavitvah?
Zelo zgodaj sem se začela glasbeno, tudi operno izobraževati, tako da sem že v srednji šoli nastopala s profesionalnimi opernimi ansambli in snemala za glasbene založbe, pogosto tudi skupaj z mamo, a še raje kot opero sem imela staro in baročno glasbo. Skušala sem ubrati konvencionalno pot, toda v srednji šoli sem bila grozna, moj šolski uspeh je bil slab, pogosto sem manjkala pri pouku in na koncu so me spustili naprej samo zato, ker so me imeli vrh glave, rekoč: naj gre na glasbeni konservatorij, kot pevka se bo lahko preživljala. Res sem se potrudila, disciplino do petja sem imela ponotranjeno, a tudi na konservatoriju sem bila strašno nezadovoljna in nesrečna, zlasti s pedagoškim procesom, ki je bil zastavljen kot usposabljanje za vokalne obrtnike. Poleg tega je tedaj umirala moja mama in vse skupaj me je iztirilo, tako da sem pristala v psihiatrični bolnišnici. V tistem obdobju sem dobesedno prenehala govoriti, kot da bi povsem izgubila odnos do jezika. A prav splet teh okoliščin in dogodkov je v meni sprožil in vzpodbudil raziskovalen odnos do glasu in opere.
V svojih teoretskih besedilih se navezujete na knjigo O glasu (v prevodu A Voice and Nothing More) filozofa dr. Mladena Dolarja. Dolar o akuzmatičnem glasu, ki ga slišimo, ne da bi videli, kaj ga povzroča, zapiše, da je mati akuzmatičnega glasu prav materin glas, torej glas, ki poskrbi za zvočno ozadje našega vstopa v življenje. Kot zapišete, se je med vama z mamo, medtem ko ste z njo peli, vzpostavil poseben fizični odnos; po njeni smrti ste mislili, da boste povsem prenehali peti, vendar, kot pišete, se je zgodilo ravno obratno in se je materin glas nekako čudežno spojil z vašim…
O tem nimam izoblikovanega odgovora, lahko govorim zgolj iz lastne ponotranjene izkušnje. Z mamo sva skupaj prepevali od mojega ranega otroštva; ko sva pozneje tudi skupaj nastopali, sem se zavedala, da se je med nama vzpostavila prav posebna telesna vez. Po njeni smrti, takrat sem bila stara sedemindvajset let, se je moj glas resnično spremenil – na to so me opozorili pevci, s katerimi sem pela, in občinstvo, nekaj režiserjev in dirigentov, s katerimi se že pred tem sodelovala, pa mi je reklo, da se je moj glas nekako podvojil.
Ta, sicer na drugačnem odnosu temelječa bližina pa se je, kot pišete, pozneje vzpostavila med vami in performerjem Ronom Atheyjem, s katerim ste sodelovali v performansu Judas Cradle (Judeževa zibka)…
Izkušnja z Ronom mi je pomagala, da sem začela bolje razumeti razmerje, ki sem ga imela z mamo, to, kaj natanko se je pravzaprav dogajalo med najinim petjem. Z glasom se lahko dotakneš intime in telesa drugega, in to ne le v petju, ta stik se lahko vzpostavi tudi med pogovorom…
Glas kot zvočna materialnost torej, ki sproži fizično interakcijo med telesi…
Ja, a tudi znotraj telesa.
Je potemtakem za vas kot pevko glas nekaj zunanjega ali notranjega ali pa točka, na kateri se notranjost spodvije v zunanjost?
Prav to je zanimivo pri glasu, da je hkrati nekaj notranjega in zunanjega. Zvoka kot valovanja človek ne zaznava le s sluhom, ampak ga izkuša tudi taktilno, zvok potuje po telesu tudi skozi kosti, kar lahkomedtelesi vzpostavi poseben odnos. Zvok ni zunanji objekt, ampak del telesnosti, ki na telesnost vpliva in jo tudi lahko spremeni. V takih primerih pride do nekakšne podvojitve, z vibriranjem tvojega glasu vibrira tudi tvoje telo, podoben vpliv ima zvok tudi na poslušalčevo telo, na telo drugega.
V omenjenem besedilu se navezujete na tri uporabe glasu, ki jo v študiji O glasu izpostavi filozof Mladen Dolar: na dimenzijo glasu kot nosilca in posredovalca pomena, na drugo, estetsko dimenzijo, v kateri se glas osamosvoji od posredniške vloge in postane sam vir fascinacije, kot je to denimo v operi, in na tretjo dimenzijo – objekt glas, ki je nezvedljiv na prvo in drugo dimenzijo in ki deluje kot motnja v prenosu pomena ter kot zareza v estetski fascinaciji. Katera od teh treh dimenzij vas raziskovalno najbolj zanima?
Dolarjevo študijo O glasu sem odkrila nedavno, nisem je še do konca predela, a doslej sem nad njo navdušena. Poznam ogromno literature o operi, ki me nikakor ne zadovoljuje, kot me tudi povsem ne zadovoljujejo lingvistične teorije, ki raziskujejo, kako glas živi v jeziku. Dolar se loteva glasu, kot se ga doslej teoretsko še ni dotaknil nihče. Zanima me zlasti tretja dimenzija glasu, o kateri govori – objekt glas. Med glasbeniki se je skladatelj Luciano Berio ukvarjal z zunajdiskurzivnim in zunajglasbenim vidikom glasu kot nekakšno sledjo, preostankom, ki ga pevčevo telo v vsakdanjem življenjem pušča na glasbeni površini; kajti glasu ni mogoče tako kot drugih inštrumentov po koncertu odložiti oziromaga pospraviti v škatlo. Dolarjeva študija mi vzbuja dvojen občutek, po eni strani se počutim neizmerno razburjena, obenem pa sem nekako živčna, kajti to, kar me muči, je odgovor na vprašanje o povezanosti glasu in spola, ali obstaja razlika glede na to, čigav je glas, ali gre za ženski, moški ali nemara kak tretji glas, kako torej glas določa spol in obratno…
Kaj je bilo za pomorščake tako usodno zapeljivega na morskih deklicah, ki so imele, kot zapišete, namesto spolovila zgolj dolg debel rep?
Ne gre le mit za o sirenah, ki se pojavlja v mnogih kulturah, ampak za vprašanje, kako delujejo fantazije, povezane z glasom, v tem primeru z ženskim glasom. Zakaj nas vznemirjajo, zakaj potrebujemo fantazije, ki se vrtijo okoli glasu, kako si glas prizadeva za to, da se jezikovno artikulira, in kako se skozi glas vzpostavlja interakcija z drugim.
Kolikor poznam vaše delo, v zadnjih letih raziskujete predvsem petje v nenavadnih, tudi ekstremnih razmerah. Performans Judas Cradle (Judeževa zibka), ki ste ga izvedli z Ronom Atheyjem, ste delno odpeli v visečem položaju, z glavo, obrnjeno navzdol. V tokratnem performansu Pet sežnjev globoko moj oče leži se lotevate še bolj nemogočega položaja – petja pod vodo, kar vsebinsko poudarite tudi s kostumografijo – na vašo tokratno večerno toaleto so bile pripete ženske lasulje, v drugih izvedbah ste imeli pripeto krzno oziroma perje. Zakaj voda? Če se ne motim, se pred vami tega podviga ni lotil še nihče?
Kolikor mi je znano, ne. Zakaj ravno voda, ne vem, mislim, da odgovor dobivam počasi, skozi izvajanje podvodnih performansov. Me je pa od nekdaj zanimalo, kako se zvok obnaša v vodi, kajti zvok skozi vodo potuje nekajkrat hitreje kot po zraku. Poleg tega se mi ob tem sproža vprašanje delokaliziranega glasu, torej akuzmatičnega glasu, ki mu ni mogoče določiti izvora; pod vodo je težko določiti, od kod glas prihaja, gre namreč za povsem drugačno izkušnjo kot na kopnem, za taktilen zvok, ki ima opraviti z vibracijami, ki se širijo v telesu. Projekt Vodne opere, ki vključuje serijo perfomansov, bodisi intimno situacijskih bodisi eksperimentov, izvedenih na javnih prostorih, sem pripravljala leto in pol in še vedno odkrivam čisto nove stvari. Poleg izkušnje utelešenja zvokamenavdušuje tudi varljivost same te izkušnje, ki je odvisna od različnih dejavnikov, od oblike kadi oziroma bazena, od vodne globine pa tudi od same sestave vode.
Brala sem, da v sodelovanju z dr. Grantom Deanom z oceanografskega inštituta Scripps v La Jolli pripravljate performans, ki ga boste menda izvedli v oceanu, v slani vodi.
Grant, strokovnjak za oceansko akustiko, spremlja klimatske spremembe na podlagi medsebojnega delovanja vode in zraka v mehurčkih ter raziskuje podvodno komunikacijo z arhiviranjem podvodnih zvočnih posnetkov valov, mehurčkov, živali, vetra, dežja, topljenja ledu … Grant mi teoretično in praktično pomaga reševati vprašanja podvodne akustike. Z izvedbo projekta v morski vodi za zdaj še odlašam, dolgo časa sem potrebovala, da sem v sladki vodi natrenirala sočasno plavanje, reguliranje dihanja in petje. Izvedba v oceanu pa je zaradi slanosti in globine še toliko zahtevnejša.
Kako ste se pripravljali na nedvomno fizično izjemno zahtevne in potencialno nevarne podvodne performanse?
Začela sem počasi, v kadi, v zelo nizki vodi. Ogromno sem eksperimentirala, na začetku sem raziskovala podvodni »hrup«, torej zvok mehurčkov, potem sem se osredotočila na poslušanje svojega dihanja, šele pozneje sem začela vključevati zvok in melodijo ter se lotila metode nadzorovanja zraka, torej mehurčkov, in praktičnega delovanja resonance. Dihalne aparate sem vključila v naslednji fazi, tudi potapljaški tečaj sem opravila šele potem, ko sem se že ukvarjala s projektom. Na začetku se mi je nekajkrat zgodilo, da sem bila zelo blizu globinske pijanosti, no, zdaj sem že precej izkušena in sem tudi previdnejša. Poleg tega med treningi nikoli nisem sama in je ob meni vedno kdo, ki bi mi, če bi šlo kaj narobe, priskočil na pomoč.
“Vodni performans kot kombinacijo La Scale in Jacquesa Cousteauja” ste menda na povabilo pripravljeni izvesti tudi na domu, v intimnem okolju kopalnice…
Gre za zelo resno ponudbo, ki je doslej, sicer ne vem, zakaj, ni še nihče izkoristil. Na ta način sem performans kot javni dogodek izvedla zgolj enkrat, ko so mi svojo kopalnico odstopili prijatelji v San Franciscu. Takšna izvedba se mi zdi zanimiva tudi zaradi intimne komponente projekta, saj je zasnovana za pevko in enega samega poslušalca.
Ampak glede na napovedi o katastrofalnih učinkih klimatskih sprememb bo v prihodnosti na lokacijah San Francisca in Los Angelesa podvodna opera tudi edina, ki jo bo mogoče izvajati…
Bojim se, da res, torej je čas, da se pripravimo … (smeh) Prav klimatske spremembe so tudi ena od vsebin mojega dela. To področje me vedno znova navdihuje, saj ponuja ogromnomožnosti in prav lahko bi se s tem ukvarjala do konca življenja. Obenem pa želim svoje znanje in metodo prenesti drugim, in sicer v smislu, da lahko človek postane svoj lastni inštrument. Z neko pevko sva že izvedli nekaj poskusov.
Kaj pa petje v drugih ekstremnih razmerah, v breztežnostnem prostoru, na primer, v vesolju?
Na to sem pomislila lani po smrti Stockhausna, ki je fantaziral o petju na vesoljski postaji. Ideja se mi zdi krasna, a o njeni izvedbi nisem nikoli resno razmišljala, zelo sem vezana na Zemljo, ne zanimajo me ideje o pobegu in kolonializaciji vesolja, potem ko Zemlja ne bo več primerna za življenje. Ena ključnih sestavin mojih projektov je tudi sprejemanje smrti, sprejemanje konca stvari, pa ne v tem smislu, češ, vse umira, vsega je pač enkrat konec, ampak kot pripravljenost, da se s smrtjo soočimo in jo tudi sprejmemo, namesto da skušamo tisto, kar imamo radi, kar se nam zdi lepo, za vsako ceno ohraniti pri življenju.
Kako izbirate repertoar, ki ga izvajate v performansih?
Tako kot se spreminjam sama in se spreminja svet, spreminjam tudi repertoar. Spremembe me zanimajo skozi politično perspektivo. Razdiralni učinki klimatskih sprememb in strah pred naravnimi katastrofami, kot so poplave, vse to je v ameriški politiki tesno povezano s krščansko agendo sodnega dne. V tem duhu uporabim Wagnerja, ki je razdejanje in kataklizmo vrhunsko dekoriral na meji kiča. Pogosto se odločim tudi za Kvartet za konec časa, ki ga je Messiaen napisal med drugo svetovno vojno v taborišču in v katerem se njegovo, čisto osebno zlitje krščanstva in spolnosti prepleta z njegovim odnosom do izgube in smrti. Prav izguba in proces žalovanja, v katerem je izgubo mogoče postopoma sprejeti, ter spoznanje, vedenje, ki ga žalujočemu takšna izkušnja prinese, je ena glavnih tem pri izbiri repertoarja. Poleg tega pa me v glasbi zanima tudi užitek, kot ga v svoje kompozicije vključuje ameriška skladateljica Pauline Oliveros, ena od osrednjih figur sodobne elektronske glasbe. Pauline Oliveros je že pred desetletji v intervjujih govorila o strasti v glasbenem ustvarjanju, kar močno čutim tudi sama in v ustvarjalnem procesu povezujem tudi užitek in igro. V sodobni resni glasbi je takšna povezava sila redka, saj sta v njeni estetiki in jeziku poudarjena disciplina in težavnost, v smislu: težje in resnobnejše je delo, višja je njegova umetniška vrednost. Atonalna glasba je prepojena zmačizmom!
Ali kot pevka kdaj občutite strah, da bi znova izgubili glas?
Ja, zato ga verjetno tudi fizično izzivam. Glas je bolj kot fizično krhek in občutljiv duhovno, zato se nikoli ne počutim povsem varne; zdi se mi, da se nisem nikdar povsem opomogla po svoji izkušnji izgube glasu in da se govorjeni stavek lahko v prav vsakem trenutku razpusti.
Mar to pomeni, da niste nikoli kadili?
O, pa sem, kadila sem kot nora. A saj v tem je paradoks, mar ne?
Že veste, katera je naslednja lokacija uprizoritve Vodne opere?
Več možnosti se mi odpira, a ker je performans še vedno v fazi razvoja, pa tudi zaradi njegove zahtevnosti, z izvedbami ne hitim, saj želim tehniko izpiliti in jo še temeljiteje razviti. Projekt je zasnovan kot site specific, pri čemer me zanimajo tudi ekološke vsebine, povezave vode in skupnosti, ki živi na določenem območju.
Kaj pa operni odri, ali še nastopate kot interpretka v opernih postavitvah?
Sodelujem s skladatelji, pa tudi v gledaliških in intermedijskih produkcijah. Zelo rada delam s francoskim skladateljem Philippom Manouryjem pa z Millerjem Puckettom, avtorjem Pure Data – računalniškim sistemom za glasbene in multimedijske performanse. V konvencionalnih opernih postavitvah pa že dolgo ne nastopam več, kot interpretka opernih vlog se nikakor ne obnesem. V ustvarjalnem procesu želim sodelovati aktivno, zato me reprodukcije enih in istih reči preprosto ne zanimajo. ”
“ Juliana Snapper grew up with opera; her home in Albany, California, under the wing of her mother, also an opera singer, was filled with music, but as well with dark, wicked sounding tones. She made her first appearance on the operatic stage when she was only fifteen years old, and, as an extremely talented soprano singer fulfilled all the requirements for the start of a successful career as a classical opera singer. All, except one, and it was the key one — Juliana Snapper believed in opera, but not in the malicious image of the opera world and its convention.
In the turbulent times of her teenage years and twenties, which were throwing her from music to silence, spinning her from ecstatic creativity to complete helplessness, she never gave up on music —not even when she lost her voice literally and later found herself through it again. After the diploma at the music conservatoire in Oberlin, she finished her PhD from musicology, where she dedicated her research to yet undiscovered, hardly heard, only touched dimensions of sound and voice, as well as possibilities of singing in extreme conditions, as a singer and researcher. After Judas Cradle, which she performed with Ron Athey in Ljubljana the previous week, she presented a performance from the series of Aquatic Opera in the swimming pool of Kodeljevo Sports Park. The name for the piece, Five Fathoms deep my Father lies, was borrowed from American writer Laura Weeks. Even though the microphones above the pool broke, the forty five minute long performance — which went from singing next to the water and simultaneous projection of a video made by Juliana’s collaborator and partner Paula Cronan, gradually merged into singing above and especially under water — filled the mental, associative pool with questions and mainly temporary answers, and not only about the voice and sound, but even concerning that, which is the essence of art and science — how to come closer to the impossible or how at least touch, if not to reach it.
You grew up with opera, your mother was a soprano singer; why didn’t follow her path, and instead of a conventional opera career, did you choose a radical research of voice and vocal music?
My mother had a conventional path, which was interrupted a few times — partly because she had children, which was her wish, partly because of a heavy and torturing relationship, as well she was fighting a mental disorder and subsequently a deficiency. The house, where she played piano, was always full of music, but mother’s life was in itself a critique on an image of the operatic world. This is how I, growing up with disease and shortage, never could accept opera as a disinfected space, which belongs to the upper class.
But in spite of that, you started performing in operas very early?
I started my education in music, as well as in opera very early, so by the time I was in high school, I started performing with professional opera ensembles and recording for record labels, often with my mother, but more than opera I enjoyed old and baroque music. I tried to take a conventional way, but I was terrible in high school, my grades were bad, I was often missing classes and at the end they let me through only because they had had enough of me, thinking: let her go to the music conservatoire, she will be able to survive as a singer. I really invested into it, I had an inbuilt discipline for vocal training, but I was unhappy and unsatisfied, especially with the pedagogical approach, which was made to train singers as a craftsmen. Besides, my mother was dying at that point, and all together threw me off so much I ended up in a mental institution. In that period I literally stopped talking, as if I would lose the relationship with language completely. But exactly these situations and events triggered and encouraged in me a research-like approach to voice and opera.
In your theoretical texts you are referring to the book A Voice and Nothing by philosopher Mladen Dolar. Dolar writes about acousmatic voice; voice which we can hear, but can’t see where it is coming from. He says that the mother of acousmatic voice is actually mother’s voice, so it’s the voice that carries out the background sound of our entrance into life. As you write, while you were singing with your mother you established a very special physical relationship; after her death, as you mentioned, you were thinking of quitting singing, but it happened the other way around: your mothers voice magically merged with yours...
Working in the water is particularly interesting as regards sound and source. The listener in water hears through the conduction of sound through her bones and skull, rather than her ears, as we do in air. Receiving sound at two sites — your ears — allows you to measure the source of the sound by measuring the difference in the signals. That difference in volume of the signal allows us to map the location of a sound. When you hear through your bones, (in water or any amniotic fluid) your whole body does the work of hearing and so you lose the receptive polarity by which to determine and name sound’s source. This is as true for sounds external to the water as well as internal, so we can also imagine our listening fetal selves knowing the whole world as part of its own body – which was also a shared body. This idea of the originary voice, which Julia Kristeva wrote so beautifully about, allows us to imagine other ways of relating to language, with receptivity and interpersonal exchange --and to suss out our frustrations with the limited process of putting our experiences and ideas into words.
Singing with my mother, who was herself a professional classical singer, was a thorny mode of intimacy like any other. I sang with my mother since my early childhood; she was my first voice teacher, and we later performed together professionally. When we sang together in duets there was a particular physical connection that could be felt and heard which came from a kind of acoustical stacking, or vocal blend, that is possible with singers that share the same physical architecture and who have learned to spoon their voices over years of practice. The clean lock of frequencies is visceral for the listener as well as the singer. Its why we love the [name family groups] There is something uncanny about it, perhaps because it is familial and sensual at the same time, but we can trace it acoustically.
After her death, I was twenty seven at the time, my voice and my relationship to voice changed. I was the last to recognize it, but my coach and other musicians I worked with kept remarking that my voice had somehow doubled in weight or presence. Its possible I’m sure to craft a twisty psychological explanation behind this physical manifestation but the experience was a very material reception of something in my body that it did not have before.
This closeness, though based on a different relationship, later re-established between you and a performer Ron Athey, with whom you collaborated on the performance Judas Cradle…
Because Ron’s relationship to body challenges the body’s limits and presses our emotional connection to others’ bodies, it was a thrilling collaboration. Remember, voice works like touch. “Touch at a distance,” as homie calls it. Voice is a transfer of vibrations from inside your body to the insides of another body and so it is a charged erotic exchange, even at its most casual.
Voice as an audible concreteness, which triggers a physical interaction between bodies…
Yes, and insides of bodies.
So is the voice for you as a singer, something internal or external, or maybe a point where the inside folds into the outside?
Firstly, this is what is interesting about the voice; that it is always both. Voice is not simply an external object in transfer, but a signal generated inside of one body that seeks out, and penetrates another body. Even in air, human beings don’t perceive sound only through hearing, but also in the realm of tactile. Its received by the whole body — through bones and tissues as well as ear holes. So singing is always an operation between bodies.
In the mentioned text, you are writing about Dolar’s theory, which he presents in his study of A voice and Nothing, about three usages of the voice: the dimension of the voice as a carrier and a mediator of the meaning, secondly the aesthetical dimension, where the voice is liberated of the role as a mediator and becomes itself the source of fascination, as for example in opera, and thirdly - the object voice, which can’t be limited by the first and second dimensions, and works as a disturbance in the transmission of meaning and as a cut in the aesthetical fascination. Which of these dimensions interests you most in your research?
I am mostly interested in the third aspect, that Dolar calls the object voice. The idea is related to Kristeva’s and Barthes work with Geno-text and geno-song, but more flexible because it is really about the voice itself and not the voice in relation to language or musical syntax. Yet Dolar’s object voice leaves a double impression in me: it excites me greatly, and it makes me think that the relationship between voice and embodiment has not been sufficiently complicated; can we really universalize voice, or is there a difference depending on who’s voice it is?
I’m toying with this idea that a person’s voice is actually a second body that is at least as important as the visual body as a marker of identity and affect. Society has trouble disciplining what it can’t visualize so, even though it may carry certain social markers on its surface, the voice also gets to violate social boundaries. This is why voice has been an important to various marginalized or oppressed cultures. The vocal body is a more fluid and less discriminating body, always rubbing up against and going inside of other bodies. But its also where a very tender self-ness lives – think of the sense of exposure and the dread of an acutely personal failure that comes with singing in front of another person. And at the same time, the vocal body defines to a large degree what we perceive as real. The vocal body trumps the visible body. For example, one technique butches use to enter womens’ bathrooms without getting yelled at is to speak or sing as they walk in. They look like men, but their vocal presence convinces the would-be yeller to see another lady. An appealing voice can make an otherwise socially abject body – ugly, fat, old, short – hot. Think of the sumptuousness of the tank-shaped Wagnerian soprano; the unfading sex appeal of Eartha Kitt, Roberta Hunter and other octegenarian chanteuses… Or from the other end, take another look at Frank Sinatra with the sound down, yech. The voice wins. The vocal body is just a sexier place to live from. Given the choice between an incredibly tender and personal, indiscriminately erotic, outlaw body or an easily trapped, organ-stuffed, function-obsessed smelly meat body where would you reside?
What was so fatally seductive for the sailors about mermaids that had, as you write, instead of genitals only a long thick tail?
When I first began the project of singing into water I actually thought I could avoid dealing with mermaids and sirens completely. Honestly, I’m not particularly interested in Sirens, Russalkas, Rheinmaidens or Lorelei as characters in a story. There is this theme park in Florida called Weeki-Wachi World where they put on these mermaid shows –family-friendly burlesques where you get to watch a mermaid eat an apple and drink a coke underwater. Gorgeous. As a spectacle, what could compete with Weeki-Wachi World? What I AM interested in is the (cross-)culturally pervasive fantasy of the siren and the language-less feminine singing voice – the desire for a voice that can shatter our minds or compel us to unthinkable acts! It took me a while to notice that sirens interrupt war and commerce – think Ulysses, even Moby Dick. I can imagine a very real longing on the part of soldiers and merchant sailors, who were and are often coerced into these roles to begin with, for a humanizing intervention. So archetypally, the siren is a kind of predatory peace activist or anti-capitalist floozy.
As much as I know your work, you are researching singing in extreme conditions, especially in the last period. Judas Cradle that you performed with Ron Athey, you partly sang in a hanging position, with the head up- side down. This time, in Five Fathoms Deep My Father Lies, you put yourself in even more impossible situation- singing under water, which is visually underlined with the costume- your elegant evening dress had a women’s wigs attached on, in other performances you had fur and/or feather. Why water? If I’m not mistaken, nobody took up this challenge before you?
No, as far as I know they haven’t. Why exactly water, I don’t know, I think, I’m getting the answer slowly through performing underwater. But I was always interested in how the voice behaves in water, because sound travels through the water a few times faster than through the air. Beside that, there is a question appearing of delocalization of voice, so akuzmatic voice, whose origin can’t be defined; it is hard to identify the place of where the sound is coming from in the water, it is a completely different experience of the voice than on land, it is the tactile sound that has to do with vibrations spreading through the body. The project Water Operas includes a series of performances, either as intimate situations or experiments done in public spaces, which I was preparing for a year and a half, and I’m still discovering new things. Aside from the experience of embodying the sound, what also thrills me is the deceptiveness of the experience itself, which depends on different factors; from the shape of the bath or pool, to the depth and movement of the water.
I read that in collaboration with Doctor Grant Dean from Scripps institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, you are preparing a performance that is going to happen in the ocean, in salty water.
Grant measures climate change by listening to water and in particular, to bubbles in water. Grant is fantastic. A specialist in ocean acoustics and climate change, he has been incredibly generous with his time and patience in helping me understand and anticipate specific issues of underwater acoustics and voice. We’re aiming to spend a couple weeks in the fall to collaborate intensively. It has taken me a long time to train in still fresh water and I want to be very confident technically before delving into the rougher, deeper and less predictable waters of the ocean.
How were you physically preparing for these, without a doubt, demanding and possibly dangerous underwater performances?
I started slowly, in the bath, in a very low water. I experimented a lot, and read whatever I could find about water acoustics. It has taken some time to develop the vocal coordination and physical stamina to work musically in deeper waters, and I have made many mistakes along the way – fortunately without any terrible consequences. Just some cold water delirium, depth drunkenness, sinus infections and a few close calls at the bottom of the pool. Now I won’t practice without another body on hand to toss a life preserver.
“Water performance as a combination of La Scala and Jacques Cousteau” is a piece that you are apparently prepared to do at anyone’s home, in the intimate surrounding of a bathroom…
I don’t know why nobody took me up on it! Who wouldn’t want their own personal bathroom opera? Maybe someone in Ljubljana will be brave enough to draw me a bath. It took luring artist Jeanine Oleson to Los Angeles to collaborate with me before the project finally saw some bathroom tile. Jeanine made this gorgeous aquatic instrument just for voice – the Snorkelabra! We installed ourselves in bathtub and toilet and sang a delirious duet for the music series Shotwell Shack, curated by Drew Boles and Lauren X in San Francisco.
But looking at the forecasts about catastrophic effects of climate changes, the underwater opera will be the only thing possible to perform in future in the area of San Francisco and Los Angeles…
Yeah, I’m securing my monopoly… (laughter)
What about singing in other extreme conditions, for example anti- gravity, like in Space?
Yes! I though of that last year, when Stockhausen dies — he fantasised about concertizing on a space station. But I’m very attached to the Earth. And I am interested in what it means to accept the end of things — instead of trying to keep things that are dear to us alive at any cost. I think our anxieties about climate change expose our relationships more generally to dread and grief. If water symbolizes emotion, then the waters that threaten to swallow up cities also suggests an inevitable confrontation with the feelings we try to, or have to avoid in order to stay productive – the American moral imperative. Speaking for myself — sometimes I will do anything to avoid feeling an emotion! But when I get away with it for too long I get slammed by all the neglected feelings and then have to cry and take a lot of depression naps. Emotional riptide.
How do you choose the repertoire for your performances?
When I design the sound for my performances or installations it usually involves twisting vocal recordings or quotations out of shape in one way or another. In the first staging of Five Fathoms I used birdcalls and baroque cantatas about aging. But water forces you to move slowly from tone to tone. Rapid passage-work, such as that in the baroque ariettas, turn to mush in the water because each tone has an long decay and blurs over into the next. So in the last performance I play off of more sluggishly lyrical themes from Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the end of time, a sloppy “cry me a river,” and, at the floor of the pool, kitchy cataclysmic warnings from Wagnerian heroines. The thematic shift comes from reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine and thinking about recent American environmental policies and the evangelical vision of apocalypse in which the entitled few are airlifted from the ruined earth into heaven – something we saw previewed during Hurricane Katrina where rescue was a matter of entitlement and private access.
I have started working with a brilliant pianist and composer, Andrew Infanti, on a full-score for the next incarnation of the project. By working with I mean I have begged him to make a beautiful score. Infanti is much smarter than I am but I try not to show him that I know it because I think it would make him lonesome.
Do you as a singer ever get afraid that you would lose your voice again?
Yes, and that is probably why I’m challenging it physically. Like I’m testing it to make sure it will work, that its strong. Voice is more fragile and sensitive spiritually, than it is physically, so its not a very good test. By now singing flows quite easily for me, but I still have great anxiety around speaking. I never fully recovered from the sense that a spoken sentence can come loose from my mind and tongue midstream; coherence can vanish at any moment and stay gone.
Does that mean you never smoked?
Oh, yes I did, I loved smoking. I haven’t done it since my early twenties but I still enjoy watching others smoke, I like the smell of smoke on other people and beer-soaked smokey kisses.
What about operatic stages? Are you, as an interpreter, still performing in operas?
I am stronger as a creative artist than as solely an interpreter but where there are projects that really push an envelop — technical, thematic, musical — then I enjoy working as “just” a singer because it requires the kind of stretching I’m interested in. I have been fortunate to work with the French composer Philippe Manoury and Miller Puckett, author of Pure Data (realtime computing for music and multimedia performances) to perform En Echo, the first score-following work for voice and I will work with them again on a new piece for 2010. I want to be active in the creative process, which is why conventional opera, which is all about the replay (Sound artist Amanda Piasecki calls it Historical Recreation!) isn’t my cup of tea. ”
“ Bathed in blue light, the metal and glass dunk-tank sits wedged between two projector screens, cold and foreboding against the warm red interior of Bendigo’s Capital Theatre. You Who Will Emerge From the Flood, an underwater opera composed by Juliana Snapper with Andrew Infanti, explores themes of violence, gender, and sexuality in a captivating performance on the opening night of 2017 Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music.
The work commences with a pre-recorded piano track. The loose rhythms and harsh timbres of the gently out of tune piano dissolve into a subtle layer of synthesised sounds. A pencil-drawn animation of a lonely and naked figure emerging from a body of water flashes across the projector screens. The figure appears androgynous until its breasts emerge from the water. This sequence of images repeats, but with each viewing you feel there are subtle changes to the shading and details of the animation, much like the subtly expanding piano melody.
Snapper emerges from behind one of the screens, climbing onto the dunk-tank and allowing her costume to be taken in by the audience. She wears a dress with blonde wig hair spouting from beneath the hem, like a vast mane of pubic hair. Holding herself on the outer rim of the tank, a new part in the electronic track takes off, this time an artificial choir dominating the sonic palette. Accompanying this new section are projected images of motionless bodies floating in water, this imagery adding a sinister feeling to the water on stage and suggesting why Snapper has not yet touched the water.
A strong moment of silence follows, which is broken by Snapper singing a solo passage of German text. There is no translation for the text, but the nineteenth-century expressionist quality of the music evokes a carnivalesque, ritualistic quality to the way Snapper has displayed herself so far.
Snapper lowers herself into the water slowly and deliberately, the microphones placed around the tank amplifying the sounds of the water and her body against the container. As a key moment in this opera, there is an innate theatricality to Snapper’s first plunge into the water. At first I feel she has no control and resents the water, her costume ungracefully floating through the water and exposing her crotchless outfit. The dunk-tank itself is a machine of ritual humiliation and it’s quite confronting to see the performer force herself beneath the surface whether intentional or not. Eventually Snapper wrestles control of her movements, pulling herself from the water and onto a metal swing suspended just above the liquid’s surface.
There is a sense of the performer exploring the distance between herself and the water as she emits sharp melodic inhalations and exhalations centimetres above the surface. This is further enhanced by a close-up live camera feed, which is projected onto the two screens, magnifying Snapper’s interactions with the water. The camera also allows Snapper to add nuances to her presence in the tank, magnifying her physical efforts to stare into the camera or press her body against the glass. The water in the tank frames the performance and Snapper’s interplay with this voyeuristic frame may be perceived as sexualised or distressing.
The sound of underwater singing isn’t entirely unexpected; a torrent of bubbles with muffled, yet discernible, pitch. More affecting is Snapper’s strong accentuation and treatment of her breathing. When transitioning between singing above and below water, Snapper’s breaths are deep, shallow, melodic, or a frightening gasp. I catch myself holding my breath as I watch Snapper move through the water. This sense of empathy is enhanced by the heavy amplification of her breathing and the sudden loud bangs as she brushes against the tank.
Elements suggest repressive violence: the volume of her underwater singing fading with the depth of her submersion, or the fact that Snapper’s vocal passages from within her watery cell are purely syllabic with the removal of full words. Between the screens and the tank, the audience can watch the performer drown in full sight, even though there is uncertainty as to whether this is forced or not. While Snapper dives alone in the tank, the screens display a video of Snapper being violently dunked and held under the water by two men.
The electronic tracks operate like interludes in the latter stages of the work, Snapper adding drama to these interludes by fully submerging herself. Normally the electronic tracks feature synthesised sounds rather than recorded samples, however, the final electronic section features an eerie vocal duet between a real male and female voice. The uncertain fluidity of the melody begs a final question, are they singing with or against each other?
The stage plunges into darkness, not allowing the audience to witness Snapper exit the tank. Only her faint splashing is heard in the blackness of the theatre. You Who Will Emerge From the Flood is as confronting as it is captivating with Snapper demonstrating her ability to expand vocal technique and performance. With the reemergence of the lights the soprano takes her well deserved bow whilst towelling herself off. ”
“ Migracje na festiwalu to również wędrówki poza granice konwencji teatralnych. Jak w przypadku Juliana Snapper, która odebrała klasyczne muzyczne wykształcenie, ale wykorzystuje je w zupełnie nieklasyczny sposób. Znana jest z ekstremalnych warunków swoich występów, w trakcie których śpiewa, wisząc głową w dół albo przebywając… pod wodą. ”
“ Migrations at the festival also mean journeys beyond the boundaries of theatrical conventions. As in the case of Juliana Snapper, who received a classical musical education, but uses it in a completely non-classical way. She is known for the extreme conditions of her performances, during which she sings hanging upside down or staying… underwater. ”
Agnieszka Rataj, Rzeczpospolita
“ Juliana Snapper jest wykształconą śpiewaczką operową, jednak w kolejnych projektach podejmuje dialog – by nie powiedzieć: wchodzi w konflikt – z tradycyjnie rozumianą operą. Kwestionuje nie tylko konwencje dotyczące sposobu jej inscenizacji, ale również to, co stanowi jej istotę: status operowego głosu jako pewnego artefaktu estetycznego.
Snapper, śpiewając w ekstremalnie trudnych warunkach – z głową w dół, podwieszona za nogi nad sceną, czy jak w zaprezentowanym w Warszawie performansie – na basenie, pod wodą – zawiesza wytwarzane przez operę magiczne oddziaływanie głosu, ujawniając jednocześnie jego głębokie zakorzenienie w ciele, ścisły związek z materialnością. Ukazując wysiłek związany ze śpiewem, opowiada o operowym ciele poddanym tresurze i przemocy konwencji. Wydobywa przy tym ambiwalencję operowego głosu, który jest źródłem rozkoszy, ale i narzędziem opresji; więcej – w jej paradoksalnej interpretacji operowy gest prowadzi wprost do zamilknięcia: ciało wepchnięte w stereotypowe ramy hieratycznej postawy, pompatycznego gestu i nadekspresji traci głos, staje się nieme. ”
“ Juliana Snapper is an educated opera singer, but in her subsequent projects she enters into a dialogue - not to say: she comes into conflict - with traditionally understood opera. It questions not only the conventions regarding the way it is staged, but also what constitutes its essence: the status of the operatic voice as a certain aesthetic artifact.
Snapper, singing in extremely difficult conditions - with her head down, suspended by her legs above the stage, or, as in the performance presented in Warsaw - in a swimming pool, under water - suspends the magical impact of the voice produced by the opera, revealing at the same time its deep roots in the body, strict relationship with materiality. Showing the effort involved in singing, this talks about an operatic body subjected to training and the violence of convention. At the same time, it brings out the ambivalence of the operatic voice, which is a source of pleasure, but also a tool of oppression - much more, in its paradoxical interpretation, the operatic gesture leads directly to silence: a body pushed into the stereotypical framework of a hieratic attitude, pompous gesture and overexpression loses its voice, becomes mute. ”
Once, sounds used to fly around Victoria Baths, filling out its huge space and soaring right up to its prism roof - from the laughter of children to the roaring excitement of swimming galas. Lying derelict and empty since 1993, now it’s more often overhung by a vast, thick hum of silence. This weekend, the pool will sing again, with far creepier sounds. Experimental but beautiful, they’re unlikely to be like anything you, let alone the baths, has ever heard before.
You Who Will Emerge from the Flood, which is billed as the world’s first underwater opera, is the most exciting event in this year’s Queer Up North programme. The festival invited Los Angeles based opera singer Juliana Snapper, who has been pioneering a method of underwater swimming during performances in Ljubljana and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, to rise to the unique challenge of staging an opera in Victoria Baths. Snapper has performed miniatures of the opera in dunk tanks in galleries and theatres, but Manchester will be treated to the full story.
The Baths will be perfect. To start with, the largest pool, the First Class Males Pool where the performance will take place, had to be filled with water again especially for the occasion. You Who Will Emerge is set in a watery, post-apocalypse wasteland and is based around the character of aquatic creature Blorkra, played by Snapper, who is the sole survivor. Victoria Baths itself is in a strange limbo between deserted museum piece and being restored to some kind of use.
There’s an intense atmosphere in the building which will perfectly complement Snapper’s performance. Submerged underwater with an oxygen tank and projected onto screens by video cameras, for Snapper underwater singing is as much an endurance test as the acrobatic feats of sporting disciplines.
She explains: “Singing opera is so physical. What I’m doing needs the intensity and exactitude of opera singing - it would be hard to sing country underwater for example.” She continues: “Opera singing is a steady stream of sound that gets more and more powerful. What I’m doing is a mutation of opera - it takes it further.”
Snapper explains: “I’m trying to find ways to make my instrument work differently, to change the relationship between myself and my instrument and to make different sounds from the instrument.” She describes her style as ‘radical opera’, admitting: “It sits uncomfortably between disciplines.”
One of the biggest challenges for Snapper - who admits she hates the cold, will be that the water in Victoria Baths is “horribly cold”. Snapper describes a past performance: “I went into a weird trance - the water was too cold - but luckily no-one noticed.”
You Who Will Emerge is based on a line from a poem inspired by Dante’s Inferno, 'I want to die collectively'. 'Brave' volunteers from the public will comprise the chorus, based around the edges of the pool, playing the ghosts of Blorkra’s earthly predecessors. Snapper elaborates: “The opera explores what it’s like to listen to other people.” Thrown together four days before the performance, most of the choir are not experienced singers, but will create a soundscape of different textures through the interaction between their voices, part scripted and part improvised, after just three rehearsals.
Snapper is a voice teacher by trade. She explains: “Everybody knows how to use their voice, but sometimes trained singers, like opera singers, get locked in a genre”. “Working with people’s voices makes me feel like I’ve given them something. It might sound egotistical, but it gives me a sense of pride if I can make any group of random people sound wonderful.”
Snapper had a bohemian childhood, growing up just outside Berkeley in California with her opera singer mother. Opera has always been part of her life. She explains: “I spent my misspent youth studying opera mad then sneaking out of the house to play opera”. Snapper admits “I’m an opera whore, I’ll go and see anything - there’s something wonderful about the spectacle of it”, but it was whilst studying at the Oberlin Conservatory she realised traditional forms of opera are too confining.
“I rebelled against the conservatory. The machinery of the opera industry made me feel sad. It was all about creating products and I was not a good product at the time”, she admits.
“I made my professional debut when I was 17 in the chorus of Tosca, but I preferred baroque and modern opera which allowed me to be creative”, explains Snapper. “In other opera you’re just an interpreter.”
“I went to graduate school in San Diego to do critical studies and experimental practises. I went into sound, design and theatrical installation work and did performances on the side. I assumed I’d continue as a scholar.”
It’s this merging of disciplines that characterises Snapper’s work. In the past, Snapper, who is completing a PHD in Musicology, has worked closely with the performance artist Ron Athey. She confides that “artists are generally a lot more fun and curious than musicians”.
You Who Will Emerge will feature animated videos and the music of the composer Andrew Infanti, as well as ballet by dancers in flesh coloured wetsuits inspired by the 'wedding cake' style choreography of Busby Berkeley, although Snapper describes it as “my first real solo project”.
Snapper explains: “You have to collaborate with people in opera. You can’t do it all yourself. Every piece is an operation to set up.”
She continues: “It’s like what’s happening in pop music at the moment. People are buying less music so more attention is put on the show.” She adds: “In America especially, you can’t sell opera - there’s not appeal for buying the experience.”
Snapper elaborates: “I don’t believe in the idea of the genius work, the idea of receiving inspiration from above, or the notion of the composer as vessel - over history, there’s been too much of a ‘husband composer’, ‘singer wife’ relationship.”
According to Snapper, “didactic opera with a moral message is really boring”. You Who Will Emerge, in contrast, will “convey a moment in time”. Snapper explains: “It’s not a super narrative opera - you just kind of tune into bits along the way.”
There will be some conventional aspects to the opera, however. Snapper says it’s a tragedy: “It’s an opera, she has to die.”
Snapper describes herself as ‘a punk and a feminist and a queer’, which she says helps create the meaning of the opera.
She is fascinated by the history of Victoria Baths: “I love the generosity of the baths as a public institution, and I'm interested in the way it was so hierarchical.
"They had creepy ideas of hygiene and an even creepier hierarchy of genders. What day of the week you swam on depended on how clean your water was - the men’s water was recycled and given to the women to swim in, which meant they got all the cooties. It reminded me of what I read about old baths in California which were segregated by race.”
Snapper defines opera as the combination of “intimacy and excess”. She notes: “Queers are good at combining the two.”
You Who Will Emerge will certainly be an intimate and exhilarating performance for those who are lucky enough to watch from the Bath's galleries, seeing the pool beneath come to life once more.