Rainbird is a new opera work in development by director Mallory Catlett and composer Aaron Siegel. Along with performers Justin Hicks, Gelsey Bell and Jade Hicks, Matt Evans, and Andie Springer this collaborative team will be exploring the writings of experimental author Janet Frame and her notion that language marks a border between life and death.
Rainbird tells the story of Godfrey Rainbird (from Frame’s novel ‘Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room’), a husband, father and immigrant to New Zealand who is struck dead by a car on his way back from work. That is, until he wakes up three days later. Using a libretto constructed from Frame’s own words, the opera explores the tension between a man who can’t access the details of being dead and a community that accuses him of blasphemy for denying their belief in the afterlife.
Rainbird features performers Gelsey Bell, Justin Hicks and Jade Hicks and a small chamber ensemble of three musicians. The work mixes improvised arias over minimal loops, original folk songs and textural spaces to create a sense of disorientation and emotional intensity. The music and text build together through this 90-minute work as Godfrey’s world splinters apart and exposes Frame’s chilling vision of a humanity perilously close to the boundaries of life.
Janet Frame’s work is known for its bracing and unflinching look at depression and death. Her language explores the line between the known world that is shared by community and the unknown territory deep inside each of us individually. Even in the paralysis of depression, Frame’s characters explore their histories, feelings and relationships, and describe the imagery that personifies their mental state. With piercing exactness, Frame’s words conjure and release life.
The collaborative team shared two scenes-in-progress from the full opera in a presentation by Experiments in Opera at Roulette on November 30, 2017. The media shared here comes from that live performance.