juliana snapper


Hell (2004—2006)

Hell is an opera written by Eileen Myles (libretto) in collaboration with Michael Webster (musical score). It was conceived at the same moment as Myles was writing the forthcoming poet’s novel Inferno (published in 2010).

Hell poster (Poetry Project, NYC, 2004)
The opera emerged from a collaborative project, called Workshop Productions of Hell, undertaken by Eileen Myles who was at the time (2002-2007) Professor of Writing in the Literature Department at UCSD:
“The three main goals of the project were to enliven opera in America, to return poetry to a place of central importance in spectacle, and to investigate the conditions of speech post September 11.” (The University of California Institute for Research in the Arts)

Juliana Snapper was involved in the project from the outset, as were Laurie Weeks (director) and Beth Stephens (stage designer) among many other collaborators (almost all volunteers)… Juliana Snapper took part in every Hell performance in the leading role of Raphael, the poet who, guided by a new Virgil (Brine), enters today’s Inferno, as Dante did at the time of his own creation, La Divina Commedia.

“Qui si convien lasciare ogni sospetto…
Ogni viltà convien che qui sia morta

To enter this modern-day Inferno, one needs to bear in mind Dante’s two famous lines, as Karl Marx who quoted them to introduce his Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy :

Here must all distrust be left;
All cowardice must here be dead.

To find out more, listen to an interview with Eileen Myles, Michael Webster and Juliana Snapper on WNYC radio. An interview conducted by Leonard Lopate on the occasion of the show’s premiere, presented by The People’s Opera and held Sept. 22-29, 2004 at The Poetry Project, St. Mark’s Church in the Bowery, New York City (NY).

Interview by Leonard Lopate, WNYC, Sept. 28, 2004

Hell was performed in Los Angeles (CA) at The Hammer Museum (Oct. 16, 2004) in San Francisco (CA) at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (Oct. 21, 2004), in Tijuana (MX) at the Teatro de la Cultura de Tijuana (Oct. 31, 2004), in Provincetown (MA)…

The piece was notably performed again in NYC (NY) at PS 122, presented by The People’s Opera (Mar. 31–Apr. 9, 2006).

As Performance Space New York (formerly PS 122 ) put it, “Hell employs frank and lyrical language and an exalted baroque style to tear away the veils obscuring corporate silence and global disaster. Inspired by Dante’s Inferno and post 9/11 events, Hell takes up an elegiac and musical cudgel on behalf of free speech and sings out against the endless waging of war.”

An alternative to Hell?

Listen to an excerpt from the end of Hell ’s scene 2: Living poetry vs. manufactured consent?

Hell, scene 2: Living poetry vs. manufactured consent?
Juliana Snapper as Raphael in Hell, at The Hammer Museum in LA, CA, 2006
Man: And people like it?

Poet: They really do
They like to sit communally
And hear messages that
Aren’t tinkered
With by the government
Or intended to sell a product

gauged to spin
some denatured piece
of information that’s already
stripped of dangerous
and alarming content

Brine: That’s bad?
Poet: Well, sometimes people like
without having to fill a need
plug a hole

Citizenship, Brine

the right to hear stuff
that maybe has small purposes
or mixed purposes

you don’t even know
what I’m talking about
do you?

 …the performances are first rate — as good as anything at the New York City Opera or the Met. Of course, Matthew Chellis as the Devil and Juliana Snapper as the Poet stand out… 

Review of Hell [web.archive.org]
by Gyda Arber, nytheatre.com, Apr. 2, 2006

Hell as a collective

Opera is a collective, and therefore individuals come into being through it. Here are the names of some of the people who contributed to the success of Hell :

Matthew Chellis and James Rio (tenors), Scott Graff and David Adam Moore (baritones), and many other singers in multiple roles, the members of the chorus and the chamber ensemble (2 flutes, 2 violins, bassoon, percussion, harpsichord, viola, contrabass);

David Chambers, Simon Leung, Laurie Weeks (directors), Jonathan Yates, Alison Graff (conductors), Beth Stephens (stage designer) Milena Muzquiz (costume designer), Peter Flaherty (video projection)…

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