Collective Listening Project

Opera Director Yuval Sharon Selects

Playlist No. 58

About the Playlist

May 27, 2021
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Yuval Sharon, founder and Artistic Director of The Industry in Los Angeles and the newly appointed Artistic Director of Detroit’s Michigan Opera Theatre, was able to apply his novel approach to immersive, site-specific productions to the restrictions imposed by the pandemic—creating innovative, drive-through operatic experiences. In curating this week’s Collective Listening Project playlist, he shares tracks that resonated for him the past year—”as I weighed how my work and how art in general is required to drastically shift to accommodate new demands for social change, the wisdom of this music reminds me where a polemicist approach fails and true art begins…”

BOB DYLAN “My Back Pages”
This was probably THE song of the pandemic for me, not only because the time at home allowed me the opportunity for obsessive deep dives into artists like Bob Dylan, but because the sentiment of this song feels so completely aligned with where I am, as I went from age 40 to 41 in the past year. As I weighed how my work and how art in general are required to drastically shift to accommodate new demands for social change, the wisdom of this poetry reminds me where a polemicist approach fails and true art begins…but also that every artist, and hopefully every human, can resonate with the concept that as you get older, this truth becomes clear: ‘Good and bad, I define these terms / Quite clear, no doubt, somehow, / Ah, but I was so much older then, / I’m younger than that now.’

RAFAEL AMOR “Corazón libre”
Speaking of wisdom, the simplicity and solace of this song have accompanied me for many, many years, and it was definitely played a LOT during this last year. Although many singers have interpreted this song, Mercedes Sosa’s deeply sonorous voice captures a chuckle-despite-the-suffering color that is so truthful and never feels cheaply motivational. In the wake of a hurricane, it gives me so much courage every time I hear her repeat, ‘Don’t give up, free spirit, don’t give up.’ (I can imagine Helga singing this so beautifully, too…hint, hint, Helga!)

JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 903
I listen to Bach every single day, and any one piece of his is enough to sustain you for a lifetime. But during the pandemic, I’ve been drawn more to this ‘fantasia,’ partially due to an interest in exploring where improvisation lives in the history of classical music. Improvisation played a huge role in Sweet Land, The Industry’s last opera, but reading Fred Moten write about the ‘fantasia’ in Black and Blur—the notion of exteriority versus interiority, spontaneously played music versus written, ‘formal’ music—lead me into a rabbit hole that I hope I’m nowhere near finished exploring. Although Moten discussed these ideas in relation to Beethoven’s ‘quasi una fantasia’ sonatas, I think Bach’s fantasia giving way to a mind-bending fugue captures all of those ideas on an even grander scale.

JOHN COLTRANE “The Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost” / “Compassion”
And on the topic of improvisation…John Coltrane was another pandemic obsession for me, primarily his last few albums after A Love Supreme. These particular pieces are totally overwhelming to listen to: a beginning that doesn’t really feel like a beginning but like you’re thrown into the middle of the cosmos. The improvisations are wild, expansive, and bordering on complete chaos, but it is such a universe of sound that it can feel like the sensation of hurtling through space with no clear sense of which direction is up. Time actually seems to stop. After all that wildness (which nevertheless still maintains the trace of the formal structure of a classic jazz piece), the second piece, ‘Compassion,’ feels like a long parachute glide down to earth; the welcome introduction of a regular beat becomes a bed for more pulsing improvisations, but after the cosmic ecstasy and terror, this second part suddenly very warm and very human. Even if the titles invokes Christianity, an abstract divinity giving way to human exchange resonates with me as a Kabbalistic move down the mystic tree of emanations. 

CURTIS MAYFIELD “Keep on Keeping on”
Considering, and then committing to, Detroit as a new community for my work played a major role during the pandemic. I began my thinking about Detroit wondering how opera in the city could capture the incredible musical vitality of the city, so I spent a lot of time listening to Motown, R&B, and Detroit techno. Mayfield, like Mercedes Sosa, sings from a sense of personal acquaintance with pain and suffering that makes his song of consolation completely authentic and not lip service. And what better advice could anyone give a person during all of this but “keep on keeping on?”

This epic, mostly improvised piece for a classical ensemble, sums up all of the various strands each of the earlier pieces on this playlist. Some of Eastman’s music is as thorny and intense as anything in Coltrane, and like the Coltrane or Bach tracks, this is a universe of sound that is so wonderful to get lost in, but it’s more oceanic rather than cosmic. I’m not sure what Eastman imagined when he called the piece “Femenine” but the gentleness of the repetitions made me imagine how sound must be perceived to an embryo floating in the universe of a womb. The insistent sleigh bells blur time; you never lose it entirely, it’s just more of a lullaby rocking rather than anything insistent. The warmth of Mayfield and Sosa, the wisdom of Dylan, is all here. I spent days with this on never-ending repeat.

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