Percussion and a shattered mirror

October 19, 1998

Percussion and a shattered mirror

ANN ARBOR—Percussionists, dancers, a chorus and principal singers highlight Michel Udow‘s new opera “The Shattered Mirror.” Not what you would call the typical opera, Udow’s composition, based on the inspirational writings of American philosopher Joseph Campbell, focuses on the lyrically melodic and bravura potential of the human voice and the subtlety and nuance of unique timbrel combinations and virtuosic driving rhythmic energy. Udow is a professor of music at theUniversity of Michigan.

The five on-stage percussionists, a percussion pit orchestra filled with Western and global percussion instruments along with newly created acoustic percussion instruments, MIDI instruments and keyboards are joined by dancers, a chorus and three principal singers including George Shirley, a professor of music at U-M. Shirley, whose career includes years at the Metropolitan and Santa Fe operas will sing the role of Moon. The other principal characters are Sun and Wind.

Campbell’s writings compare how societies have explained phenomena which, at the time, were unexplainable in scientific terms. With a flash and a bang, a lightning bolt strikes the earth; in the middle of the day, the sun disappears from view and the earth goes dark. “What did all this mean? What does all this mean?” Udow asks. “Who are we in the greater cosmos spinning through time and space at fantastic speeds?”

Not unlike a Greek tragedy, Udow’s character, Sun, (the baritone protagonist) is searching for the meaning of life. Moon (the tenor role sung by Shirley) is a wizardly type of figure. “Sun and Moon interact not unlike the stories associated with King Arthur and Merlin,” Udow says. “Wind, (the soprano role) represents the emergence of all living creatures.”

In Udow’s opera, The Four Grandfathers and their leader, (the five on-stage percussionists) function like the chorus of a Greek tragedy. They comment in sound on the stage action taking place.

Udow says this two-act, two-hour opera is “about everyone and for everyone.”

Some of the interludes from the opera are recorded on “The Shattered Mirror.”

Appearing with Shirley are baritone Peter Lightfoot and soprano Rebekah Nye. “The Shattered Mirror” will premiere at U-M’s Media Union on the University’s North Campus Oct. 30, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15 for the general public and $5 for students and are available at the University Productions Ticket Office in the League on U-M’s Central Campus.

The opera will be staged November 4 at 8 p.m. in Orlando’s Orange County Convention Auditorium.

Besides his teaching duties at U-M, Udow has served as principal percussionist of the Santa Fe Opera for 30 years having performed nearly 30 world or American premieres of operas along with the traditional opera repertory that, he says, includes about 160 performances of “The Magic Flute.” The composer heartily agrees with New York Times music critic Bernard Holland who offered a new definition of opera as “Opera is whatever you put on in an opera house.” EDITORS: Michael Udow can be reached at (734) 426-5814.

U-M News and Information Services University of Michigan

Michel UdowGeorge ShirleyMedia UnionU-M News and Information ServicesUniversity of Michigan