We are developing an operatic staging of Julia Holter’s album Tragedy,
based on Euripides’ Hippolytus, in which the wrath of an angry goddess leads to
a series of misunderstandings and deaths. The original recording was inspired by
classical imagery—statues and ruins—and was made with the intention of
eventually being performed theatrically. Julia is excited to be finally realizing this
dream with Yelena Zhelezov and Zoe Aja Moore, who are interested in
approaching the visual atmosphere of the opera by considering the various
methods in presentation of classical drama over time.
The original album consists of layers of melodic songs, found sound, and
atmospheric instrumental music—an emotional collaged response to the classic
work in a contemporary female voice. Doom is a major emotional affect present
and the resulting music is heavy on rumbling bass and fragmented haunted
melodies. The opera will bring the sounds from the record (recorded all and
mostly performed by Julia in relatively low-fidelity) into a live setting with Julia
performing with and arranging the music for an ensemble of musicians (Wild Up,
in residence at National Sawdust).
In constructing the physical environment for Tragedy, Yelena and Zoe are
interested in looking at the western world’s continual fixation with classical culture
over the centuries, and exploring past theatrical approaches, with the modular
theater in National Sawdust as a playground. The opera will draw upon the visual
elements that originally inspired the music—shadows, fragments, statues—but
also complicate the “white-marble-sculpture-with-parts-missing” environment
typically applied to the classics, with details that emerge out of studies of the
history of ideas (ie. the findings in forensic anthropology, which revealed that the
Greek statues, long thought to have always existed in shades of white only, were
actually painted garishly in bright colors).
As artists who work across different disciplines—Yelena Zhelezov with a
focus on video and performing sculptures, Zoe Aja Moore with a focus on theater
and performance, and Julia Holter as a musician —we are excited to work
together to realize the vision of Tragedy as an opera.