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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 scored 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.


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