Letting the Days Go By: “Giver of Light”

Presented by Guerilla Opera
Based on the life of Rumi 
music and libretto by Adam Roberts 
Stage direction by Andrew Eggert 
Electronics Composition by Anıl Çamcı
Sung in English 
75 minutes

Feb 18, 7:00 PM EST – Mar 18, 7:00 PM EDT

Sparrow Live

This production originally commissioned and performed in 2013 at the Boston Conservatory Black Box Theatre.  
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Sparrow Live on Facebook

Critique by Kitty Drexel

“now even the heavens
are thankful that
because of love
i have become
the giver of light”
– Excerpt from “i was dead” by Mawlānā Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī, the Sufi mystic and poet. 

“And you may ask yourself, ‘How do I work this?’
And you may ask yourself, ‘Where is that large automobile?’
And you may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful house’
And you may tell yourself, ‘This is not my beautiful wife'”
-Excerpted from “Once In A Lifetime” by The Talking Heads

SPARROW LIVE — This critique of Guerilla Opera’s 2013 performance of GIver of Light will not critique the performance. The Boston Classical ReviewBoston Musical Intelligencer, and the Boston Globe reviewed Giver of Light while it was in production.  

I am instead responding to the watch party held on February 18 on Sparrow Live. Sparrow Live’s About section on its website says, “(Our) mission is to democratize access to the arts by connecting artists with their audiences through high-quality experiences. Sparrow Live’s vision is a barrier-free relationship of equals between artists and audiences.”

If Sparrow Live wants to flourish as a performance resource for the classical community, it must diversify its box office. Its upcoming events currently range from Mezzo recitals to Soprano recitals. Instrumental recitals are a minority. Giver of Light is the only opera and therefore a novelty. 

Events like Still Dreaming: A Musical Tribute to MLK with Remarks by Ibram X. Kendi could bring in large attendee numbers if it were advertised correctly. A recital performed by an unrepped vocalist, without the audience-cushion fame brings, is a vanity project. Only close friends, family, and patrons will feel compelled to attend. It won’t give the artists or Sparrow Live the numbers it needs to survive.

But I digress. 

I had a positive experience using Sparrow Live to watch Giver of Light. An email sent to me the link to click to “attend” online. I clicked it and was sent directly to the website’s embedded video page to watch the performance. 

The opera started all on its own at 8 P.M. I didn’t need to refresh my browser every three seconds like I sometimes must do on other platforms. It didn’t autoplay either (which is the worst). I felt like I had some control. 

The opera’s program is available via a large on-screen button just under the embedded video window in both regular and large-print formats. If you don’t need these items, it is easy for a viewer to ignore them. It’s brilliant that a viewer doesn’t even have to request them! 

An audio description transcript for the blind or visually impaired was is available. The audio transcription isn’t recorded. A sighted person will have to read it aloud, or a magnifying device will need to be used. 

The opera synopsis in the program booklet is too detailed. It gives away all of its secrets. There are major spoilers all the way through the end. And it ends abruptly. The last sentence is cut off. 

The 2013 performance of Giver of Light was filmed well. The only drawbacks are the diction reduction and the off-camera audience whispers that have been caught on film for all eternity. The singing artists are clearly enunciating as hard as they can. The camera mic was too far from their voices and thus muffled their English.  

The ensemble. Photo shamefully taken by Kitty mid-performance.

There are few things that boil my blood like fully grown adults carrying on a conversation during a live performance. The perpetrators should be found and made to listen to their folly on repeat until they promise never to do it again. One such person mumbles through the middle of Giver of Light. If you have the same pet peeve, take deep breathes and meditate through it. Maybe repeat a Rumi poem to yourself. 

Giver of Light finds the similarities between free chant, meditative song and operatic song form. We hear droning, Tuvan singing, sirens, and vocal fry in the same scenes as traditional arias and duets. Electric music works in tandem with classical instruments. On one hand, this work is fascinating. Our ears are asked to recognize as music sounds that we associate with non-musical practices. This endeavor is largely successful. 

On the other, it would be easy to label Giver of Light as the New Agey twaddle that normies make fun of us for. Where you stand depends on your preferences.

Same as it ever was.

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