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CHAYA CZERNOWIN: Infinite Now (on OperaVision) | Lili Reviews

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Chaya Czernowin is an Israeli composer and Harvard professor with extensive experience working in a stylistic realm that draws inspiration from spectralism, free improvisation, new complexity and, most notably, sonorism. Infinite Now is an opera that was premiered in Ghent, in April, 2017, by Opera Ballet Vlaanderen, and it was this performance that was streamed on the YouTube channel OperaVision in July 2020, with the availability to watch for six months since the stream. The opera itself draws on narrative sources, Luk Perceval’s play FRONT (Perceval was also the director of the production) and Can Xue’s novella Homecoming, which are presented as two disconnected but thematically comparable and suspenseful storylines of finding hope and a will to survive in moments of despair and entrapment. Czernowin herself describes it has embodying ‘the state of the world … the state of humanity’ as well as ‘the intrusive influence politics have on our life’ and how ‘it is also political that the human, the person, the possibility of a person to hope, to feel is stronger than the politics and that is a political statement.’

When experiencing the non-musical aspects of the opera, it is worth noting that the audience is not viewing a story with characters, scenery, acting and narrative in a traditional sense. The source material for the narrative itself is presented almost statically, as suspended occurrences outside of the temporal trajectory carried by music in almost any other opera. Viewing the opera online also allows for more freedom to take breaks; Czernowin herself recommended in the comments that the best place for a break is after the third of the six acts, although I personally took two breaks, after acts two and four respectively. Another change in the experience through the translation of the opera into a different medium becomes more evident by the fact that the singers, or speakers, on stage, with their very specific and non-naturalistic blocking style, are viewed through the camera at angles that sometimes heighten the emotional intensity of the work through a more focussed visual framing of the performer or performers as required.

The music of the opera serves the visual, theatrical and textual elements just as much as those elements complement each other. Czernowin often uses intricately detailed sounds, crystalline instrumental and vocal interjections amidst an organically evolving electroacoustic—or electroacoustic-inspired—undercurrent. There is an intimate and emotional consciousness of the gradations between breath and vocalised sound characterising the musical setting and deliverance of the libretto. The filmed performance, also due to the immersive instrumental, vocal and electroacoustic music that engulfs the listener through headphones, creates an intrigue and tension in the relative statis of the staging, emphasising Perceval’s direction in an effective translation of a theatrical work for the screen.

This is a great, immersive and actually rather dark opera which I do recommend taking the time to experience!