Structuring chorus-soloist relationships through texture and timbre in two recent operas : p r i s m, by Ellen Reid, and Angel's Bone, by Du Yun

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2021-12-03

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Gollmar, Grace

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Abstract

This paper examines the role of musical texture and vocal timbre in structuring the narratives of two recent American operas that have won the Pulitzer Prize: Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins’s p r i s m (2018) and Du Yun and Royce Vavrek’s Angel’s Bone (2015). I approach these operas with a focus on how the timbral and textural relationships between the opera chorus and the soloist characters are used as an expressive tool. In doing so, I propose an analytical framework specific to works of music theatre, in which choral texture and timbre may stage or reinforce diegetic interaction between chorus and soloists, refract the emotional expression of a soloist through the multiplicity of the choral voice, and/or direct the audience’s attention toward or against a soloist in a critical way. These functions correspond with the opera chorus’s ability to operate at varying levels of non-diegetic agency in relation to the staged action. Acknowledging the differing narrative framing of these two operas— one of which immerses the viewer in the psychological experience of a survivor of sexual assault, and the other of which primarily follows a villain-protagonist who orchestrates and commits sexual assault— I propose that these textural and timbral functions are used in differing combinations in each work to reinforce the expressive and ethical trajectories of Perkins’s and Vavrek’s libretti.

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