Stranger Love is not practical.
Six hours long, 8 singers, 6 dancers, and an orchestra built on the engine of three microtonal pianos, it is more an out-of-body gospel revival than an opera — a gargantuan celebration of being alive.
With the zeitgeist squeezing language into 140 characters, few things could be further removed from the aesthetic expectations of the public sphere than a five-hour piece of music and theater that presupposes the power of abstraction and importance of joy.
When I tell people I’m writing a five-hour long opera, I often receive a quizzical and somewhat terrified look, as if to say, “nothing in my life is 6 hours long!” And that’s exactly it — there is nowhere in our lives we can go to pull back from the speed of our thoughts and the mechanisms we’ve built to carry us through the present into the future. Yet it’s from such a vantage point that we can look with perspective upon who we are and what it means to be alive, together, in a universe exploding with love and agony and joy. If you could choose to live five hours in a world where time bends to love like gravity, and moments of bliss, of fear and of rapture — the moments in which you’ve felt most alive — are the pillars that hold up the fabric of the stars — wouldn’t you?
That’s what Stranger Love is — an endless love letter to the world we might dream to inhabit. It’s not practical. It’s on the other side of life.
In a strange and beautiful book titled The Double Flame, Octavio Paz writes that love is “a wager against time and its accidents.” Through it, “we catch a glimpse, in this life, of the other life. Not of eternal life, but… of pure vitality." Something like that intuition or hope or delusion has inspired the making of Stranger Love. The work is the fruit of a conversation about music and language conducted over the course of years. In the making, music and words were composed in response to one another—at times one, then the other coming first. The working rhythm was call and response.
The sources are many and diverse. Plato’s Symposium informs the overall structure of the three acts, and his conception of love (erôs) has been our tutelary spirit. The story of star-crossed lovers, like the one presented in Act I, is familiar, even archtyepal, while the specific threats any given couple encounters, and how they respond to them, are poignantly unique and rooted in time. Rousseau’s Julie and St. Preux are nothing like Héloïse and Abelard, and yet Julie is also the new Héloïse. Through the interplay of abstract and particular, dialogue and diegesis, we’ve endeavored to tell a new story, a new kind of story, that’s also familiar, one that invites the audience to dwell within it and, in the end, to complete it with us. “Another opera about love?,” someone recently asked me. The right answer, I think, is that we could do no other. We couldn’t not make this very thing. But also, as one of Shakespeare’s poems puts it, love, like the sun, is daily new and old. Just so, Stranger Love is telling what is told.