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Stranger Love

an opera in three acts


What is stranger love?


Stranger Love is a 6-hour-long multimedia opera, scored for 28 musicians (including three microtonal pianos), 8 singers, and 6 dancers with music by composer Dylan Mattingly, text by Thomas Bartscherer, and visual design by Martin Butler and Ruben van Leer. The music of Stranger Love was written for the ensemble Contemporaneous.

An immersive experience, Stranger Love is a grand celebration of life itself. It follows two lovers whose romance unfolds to the rhythm of the seasons. Set on a vast time-scale against the ever-expanding universe, it broadens in scope and frame over the course of three acts, moving from the personal to the archetypical to a vision of the divine — a love supreme. Stranger Love evokes the visceral thrill of a gospel revival, the ethereal calm of watching snow fall, the wonder of staring into the night sky.

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Stranger Love reaches for the impossible. Breathtaking in scale, with burning intensity, the music dances from moments of manic energy to stretches of unearthly serenity. At six hours long, Stranger Love is deliberately countercultural. As contemporary life fragments into ever-shorter intervals, distraction has become a default mode of experience, and in an increasingly polarized and belligerent society, cynicism is pervasive.  Against all this, Stranger Love offers an epic celebration that embraces complexity and abstraction and aspires to total joy. Neither denying the world as it is, nor imprisoned by it, Stranger Love envisions the world we might hope to inhabit.

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Read full artist statements from Thomas Bartscherer and Dylan Mattingly here.



Listen to excerpts from Stranger Love below. All tracks performed by Contemporaneous at Roulette, Brooklyn, Jan. 16 and Jan. 17, 2018 on the PROTOTYPE Festival. Featuring singers Molly Netter, Jodie Landau, Jane Sheldon, Jonathan Woody, Elisa Sutherland, Kate Maroney, Charlotte Mundy, and actress Ellen McLaughlin.

photo by James Welling


WHY Stranger Love?


Stranger Love is deliberately countercultural in both scale and its commitment to joy. The fragmentation of contemporary life into ever-shorter temporal intervals has turned hectic distraction into a default mode of daily experience. Stranger Love offers an opportunity to dwell within a different temporality, in which attention is both dilated and focused. Coupled with music that is both deeply familiar — relishing in the most fundamentally pleasurable musical tropes — and altogether new (its three microtonal pianos allowing for never-before-heard harmonies), this experience is ecstatic, giving us a chance to remember what we love about being alive.

Who is creating Stranger Love?


Stranger Love was created by composer Dylan Mattingly and librettist Thomas Bartscherer, and is being developed in collaboration with artists Martin Butler and Ruben van Leer and the ensemble Contemporaneous.


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Photo by Laura Cobb

Photo by Laura Cobb

Called “visionary magic” by Prufrock’s Dilemma, composer Dylan Mattingly’s work is fundamentally ecstatic, committed to the extremes of human emotion, drawing from influences such as Olivier Messiaen, Joni Mitchell, and the microtonal folk singing of Polynesian choirs and the Bayaka of Central Africa. Mattingly is the founding executive and co-artistic director of Contemporaneous. Among the ensembles and performers who have commissioned Mattingly are the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra, the Berkeley Symphony, the Del Sol String Quartet, John Adams, Marin Alsop, Contemporaneous, Sarah Cahill, and many others. Mattingly, whose work has been described as “gorgeous” and “beautifully crafted” by the San Francisco Chronicle, was the Musical America “New Artist of the Month” for February 2013. In 2016, he was awarded the prestigious Charles Ives Scholarship by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Mattingly also received both the Ezra Laderman Prize and the Philip Francis Nelson Prize from the Yale School of Music in 2016 Mattingly holds an M.M. in Music Composition from The Yale School of Music, where he studied with David Lang, Martin Bresnick, and Christopher Theofanidis, and is mentored as well in Berkeley by composer John Adams. 




Thomas Bartscherer works on literature and philosophy in the ancient Greek and modern German traditions, focusing on tragic drama, aesthetics, and performance. He has collaborated with Contemporaneous on two previous projects, writing Long After Hesiod for the performance of Stacy Garrop’s String Quartet No. 3: Gaia and narration for Dylan Mattingly’s The Bakkhai.  Bartscherer also writes on technology, new media, and contemporary art, and has published translations from German and French. He is co-editor of Erotikon: Essays on Eros Ancient and Modern and Switching Codes, both from the University of Chicago Press. He is a research associate on the Équipe Nietzsche at the Institut des Textes et Manuscrits Modernes (Paris) and has held research fellowships at the École Normale Supérieure, the University of Heidelberg, and the LMU in Munich. In 2017, Bartscherer was appointed Peter Sourian Senior Lecturer in the Humanities at Bard College. He holds a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MA and PhD from the University of Chicago.



Martin Butler is an interdisciplinary artist and stage director living in Berlin, Germany. He was trained in Drama at Manchester University, and then later Choreography and Performance at the SNDO, in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands. His work has always bridged and combined various disciplines, dance, theatre, music, film, performance, new media, and fashion, and through this interdisciplinary approach his work explores the new dramatic that the combination of different genres facilitate. His new media and installation work has been shown in the Palais de Tokyo, Istanbul Modern, Beijing Design Week, European Media Arts Festival in Osnabrück, Fundación Telefonica in Lima, Photokino, Köln, Øsknehallen, Copenhagen, San Pau Modernista, Barcelona, Istanbul Design Biennale, Amsterdam Museum, Pixxelpoint Festival in Slovenia, Olympus Photographry Playground, Centre Pompidou Paris, Kasteel Keukenhof, the Museum of Modern Art in Arnhem, Marres, Maastricht, Salon Amsterdam, and Mediamatic, amongst many others. In 2014 he worked as dramaturgist for the international award winning opera/ dance film “Symmetry” by director Ruben van Leer in collaboration with the European Nuclear Research Centre (CERN), CTM Pictures and NTR Podium. He worked as a stage director and scenographer for the international project “Perseus & Andromeda”, together with the Italian ensemble L’Aura Rilucente, which introduced children to the world of the classics and baroque music, combining performance, shadow play and opera. In 2016 he  developed and directed the successful new opera “GIANNI”  based upon the life of Gianni Versace with German musical ensemble Brandt, Brauer and Frick for the Deutsche Opera, Berlin. In 2017 he worked as artistic advisor on Nicole Beutler’s new work Triple Moon at the Amsterdamse Schouwburg and as dramaturgist for Kate Moore’s and Ruben van Leer’s “Sacred Environment” for the Holland Festival.



It is 1993 and Scottish native Leigh Sachwitz moves to Berlin. She has just received her architectural diploma from the Glasgow School of Art and arrives at this post wall city where, at that exciting time, anything seems possible. She sees Berlin as it is, a gigantic playground, and ventures to the many temporary spaces and improvised art events in the eastern part. It is the experimental 1990’s in Berlin and while she works in an architect office by day, she helps create makeshift clubs, bars, art spaces for the night using all sorts of materials, light and projections. Later she would add sound and video. Her visuals, sights and sounds are ephemeral and bang on trend, mixing media and technologies, yet they create visceral experiences for the visitors, the artists and party people of the night.

Leigh leaves the architectural office to focus solely on these immediate creations and transforms the transient spaces all over this constantly evolving city over the next several years. For example, at WMF, a legendary club housed in ever changing, unique locations for more than a decade, she evolves from experimenting with simple slide installations to live mixing elaborate and encompassing club visuals. With the curation of the Jugend Musik Festspiele at Volksbühne Berlin her directorial skills were pushed to another level.

It is 1998 and Leigh decides to turn her vision into an official business – flora&faunavisions (FFV) is born and evolves into a slowly growing team of diverse professionals in charge of management, finance, design and more. From Leigh’s first slides in Berlin’s temporary spaces in the early 1990’s, she and her ever growing FFV family develop further to VJing with Super-8 film and VHS tape. With the technologies evolving she moves on to play with and utilise DVDs and laptops. Then comes the internet and immersive 360-degree projections. Technologies never cease to amaze Leigh and she is delighted every time she can try and create something entirely new, such as using live 3D mapping to choreographed visuals, 3D projections to a live performance, GPS motion tracking and so much more that will be tomorrow’s latest trends.


Ruben van Leer is an interdisciplinary artist and filmmaker. He studied film at the San Francisco Art Institute (BA), design at the Sandberg Institute (MFA) and direction at the Netherlands Film Academy (MA). He recently made Symmetry (2016), a dance-opera filmed in CERN, the particle accelerator in Switzerland. Symmetry starring choreographer Lukas Timulak, soprano Claron McFadden, composer Joep Franssens and physicist Robbert Dijkgraaf, recently won a Golden Prague award for ‘Best Performance Art’. As visual artist Van Leer got the commission by Holland Festival to create his latest live VR-installation Sacred Environment (2017) in collaboration with Australian-Dutch composer Kate Moore, premiering in the Concertgebouw Amsterdam featuring the Radio Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. He recently directed the award winning short film & campaign You Don’t Know Opera (2016) commissioned by The Dutch National Opera and featured on Nowness channel. Van Leer collaborated with e.g. jazz composer Tigran Hamasyan, opera composer Michel van der Aa, film maker Peter Greenway and composer David Lang. He also directed music videos and live visual systems for The Black Eyed Peas (2010), Coldplay (2007) and Yeasayer (2013) amongst other pop-music formations. His work has been screened on television: Uur van de Wolf (NTR), SkyArts international, ARTE, HBO, exhibited in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and the Museum Würth, and presented & awarded at festivals, such as the San Francisco Dance Film Festival, Barcelona Choreoscope, the Los Angeles RAW Science Film Festival, the India All Lights Festival and the Sydney World Film Festival and praised by critical international media VICE, The Huffington Post and De Volkskrant.


Photo by Bruce Kung.

Photo by Bruce Kung.

Contemporaneous is an ensemble of 21 musicians devoted to commissioning and performing the most meaningful music of the present moment. Recognized for “ferocious, focused performance” (The New York Times), Contemporaneous performs and promotes the most exciting work of living composers through concerts, commissions, recordings, and educational programs. Based in New York City and active throughout the United States, Contemporaneous has performed for many notable presenters, including Lincoln Center, Park Avenue Armory, PROTOTYPE Festival, Merkin Concert Hall, MATA Festival, St. Ann’s Warehouse, and Bang on a Can. The ensemble has worked with a wide range of artists, including David Byrne, Donnacha Dennehy, Yotam Haber, Dawn Upshaw, and Julia Wolfe. Contemporaneous has premiered more than 125 works, many of them large-scale pieces by emerging composers. Through its commissions and readiness to play challenging music, the ensemble encourages composers to take risks and defy constraints. Read more at