I'm starting the ball rolling with our initial blog post, so first, a word of welcome for those who are following our project. Inheritance has been in development for several years; and that's an interesting story in and of itself. How did it come about? Is it true that some of us wake up one day and say, "well, today's the day - time to create a new opera project"? No, not really. But there are times when essential elements align: a group of people, an impulse to create a community through collaboration, and an idea that needs to take shape in the form of art.
Lei and I share a common institutional base, the University of California at San Diego. Almost ten years ago, I changed my life's course to join the faculty at this remarkable institution, whose Department of Music focuses on new and experimental practices in composition and performance. After many years as a touring independent performing artist, I relished the opportunity to ask bigger questions and create projects in response to the process. I asked Lei to be one of the composers on the chamber opera that I commissioned, Cuatro Corridos, which addressed the issue of trafficking of women across the U.S. Mexican border. I was deeply moved by the piece that he created, and equally moved by his commitment to giving voice to those who have been silenced; ordinary people whose lives have been upended through human rights abuses, whose stories are all around us, but whom we do not hear. We wanted to continue collaborating in the form of another opera project.
We spoke at length about how to begin and who to ask to join us. Here is a secret, that to those who have a life in the arts is, perhaps, no secret at all: we wanted to create a collaboration based on friendship. In 2011, Lei spent a year in Rome, as winner of the Rome Prize in Composition. He and his family enjoyed a year at the American Academy of Rome, a place that I have visited more than a few times in order to perform, and which I know and love. While there, he met Matt Donovan, who was awarded that year's Rome Prize in Literature, and his wife, the remarkable visual artist Ligia Bouton. When Lei and I talked about who we might ask to collaborate with us, I heard excitement and warmth in his voice when he spoke about them, and soon I hoped they'd be the ones.
In Inheritance, we're addressing - confronting, really - American's complex relationship with guns. Why? One reason is obvious; it is to formulate some type of response to the seemingly never ending stream of news stories in which random gun violence ruptures the fabric of a family, a community - our daily lives. It became clear that this issue was important to all of us. But what type of response? Over the course of the past year, it's become apparent that Americans are deeply polarized on this issue, and that we aren't listening to each other. Perhaps we no longer know how. With Inheritance, we take a risk that we can create a project that invites reflection and creates conversation. This was an essential part of Cuatro Corridos, and I feel that Inheritance is another step along that path. It is, perhaps more challenging, as the relationship of our nation to guns is complicated, almost beyond comprehension. We're asking a big question, not just about the nature of the relationship, but about whether or not we can even have a discussion.
America's complicated relationship with guns is our Inheritance. We are stepping into the unknown with this project. What I do know is that we're not alone.
Check back soon, there are some lovely videos coming from Lei, Matt, Ligia, Acushla - our extraordinary director, more on her in the next post - and me, too.
I hope you'll take the journey with us.