UC San Diego Opera Responds To Prevalence Of Gun Violence In US
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October 22, 2018 1:30 p.m.
Susan Narucki, producer, “Inheritance: A Chamber Opera”
Lei Liang, composer, “Inheritance: A Chamber Opera”
This is KPBS midday edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh a world premiere chamber opera opens in San Diego this week and at its heart is the issue of gun violence. The piece called inheritance tells the story of Sarah Winchester heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune. The Winchester House in San Jose has long been a curiosity. Legend has it that Mrs. Winchester tried to ward off the spirits of those killed by the rifles by continuously building onto her mansion. KPBS's Jade Heineman spoke with UC San Diego's Grammy Award winning soprano Susan a rookie producer of inheritors who plays Sarah Winchester and Les Leang with the UC San Diego music department who compose the score.
Susan Imlay thanks so much for joining us here today. This is your second collaboration in which you use Opera to comment on a societal problem why opera.
Well you know opera has been around for five hundred years it's a medium that's constantly in transformation and one of the things that's that's happening in opera that's really exciting that people are turning to small forms an opera chamber opera that's easily transportable that's more fluid and that that's basically connecting more with with life as we know it and connecting with with the life that surrounds us. So I think as artists we're responding to the changes in the genre and also the changes that we feel I'm speaking for you like as artists who to kind of reinvent the form and add to what it can be.
Yeah in. How did you decide to go to gun violence. How did you decide to tackle that issue.
Gun violence is a reality that we all live with especially for people like myself who have a young son. Every time I take him to preschool to elementary school you know the stories are always in the news and just over the course of the last few years. So many school shooting happened and as a parent that is just something that is always over my head and I have to say that it was just a perfect kind of a synergy. Susan and I decided we must do something together again because it was so fun and so meaningful for us to do the first opera but we weren't sure what we're going to pursue as a topic. I reach out to my dear friend Matt Donovan and it was actually not the very first one of them met and I'll develop a few different projects. We thought of all the ideas and then Matt said How about Sarah Winchester. And that was the moment you lose them. Aha.
That's it. So you guys are using the story of Sarah Winchester. Can you tell us about her.
Well yes. She is of course an historical figure she is the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune. So that took place in the second half of the 19th century and she was according to legend haunted by the idea that her immense wealth brought spirits to haunt her. There was a big conflict there. She sought the advice the medium and the medium told her. Move west. Build a house. As long as this house is under construction this mansion these ghosts the spirits will not find you. And so she did that and the House stands today. It's the Winchester Mystery House. I think the other thing that's interesting to know about her is she was a deeply private person a woman who many legends have sprung up about her. But if you think about her in her essence she's a woman. She's a mother who lost her child. She lost her infant daughter to a wasting disease which which was common in that time period and after she died the only things that were in her safe were two locks of hair that the hair from her a lock of hair of her of her infant daughter and of her husband.
And now how does all of this factor into this.
The story that you're telling through this opera one of the things that we do in the opera is we juxtapose episodes from Winchester's life with episodes from contemporary American life that refer to school shootings and the past and the present inform each other the past and the present are juxtaposed. I think that that Winchester reaches to us through the past to the present in order to tell us about listening to each other at the very end of the opera. We have a ghostly tour guide. We have two ghosts who are servants as well. Everybody's in the mix. Winchester is also there as well and everybody's talking past each other. It's a conversation which no one is listening and everyone is just talking this leads us to to complete chaos. There is no possibility of change. There is no consensus about the right to bear arms but there is consensus about one thing if Sarah Winchester had to make the choice to give up all of her wealth for one more second with her daughter she would do it and think about that. I mean I think that that's something when you look at the broader issue of where we are in our country that's irrefutable this story supports that idea and musically I think that that idea is supported in the opera as well.
How did you compose that music to convey and reveal such a complex story. A big issue and one with a lot of deep emotional ties.
Yes. I divided the scenes in my own mind into what I call internal scenes and external scenes so external scenes are the things that we all see let's say a tour guide speaking to us or the chaotic sound of the continuous incessant hammering on the House because Sarah Winchester was actually a very talented self-taught architect. She ordered her workers to kind of kept on working on the House perpetually. Those are the things we all could hear and also focus on what I call internal scenes where only the sound that were hurt by several Winchester were played.
Those are not the things that we hear but those are the things that are most important to her. For example the sounds that represent her dead daughter any died when she was only one month old. But the image of her daughter. The sound that she felt evokes her presence.
Always in her head until she died. So. That there are themes that evokes the. Daughters presence.
Comes back again and again. There is also the sound of goes wailing.
You know these are people who you know according to legend or maybe you know some numbers are just staggering. Over 100 million people were killed by those guns. And of course studies still need to be conducted to really verify all of that. But there are sounds of the ghost who will come to haunt her. The other thing is that the dad role was in this opera are interchangeable. We have Susan the rookie singing the role of Sarah Winchester. We also have two female singers. They are in the character of servants who brings tea to her and all that. But at the same time they also can transform into a ghost who tried to stop her manipulate her coming to control her confront her.
The same thing goes with the tour guide who you can't also just you know the instant turned into a ghost as well.
All sounds fascinating. Susan what do you hope people take away from this opera.
I think it will have a powerful impact for people who are new to the genre. For people who are entering into the world of opera for the first time and for people who care about how art relates to our society.
Susan Narucki thank you so much for joining us. Thank you so much. Thank you.