Artist Profiles: Beth Fleenor as Ishtar
The Ballad of Ishtar is a contemporary opera that responds to our current worldwide rape culture crisis. In the grand tradition of opera heroines, Ishtar, Babylonian goddess of sex and war, has a fantastic mythology around her: she possesses the power to give or withdraw the gift of sex. Her disgust with the rampant sexual abuse she sees causes her to cut humanity off from all sexual activity, including not only procreation, but all kinds of physical intimacy and hence all interpersonal connectedness. Humanity is in chaos. Ultimately redemptive, the story ends with Ishtar having traveled to the Underworld and back and realizing the beautiful elements of humanity that are worth saving.
The work will be premiered in a three evening run at the Chapel Performance Space in Seattle, January, 2015, (part of the Wayward Music Series) by an ensemble featuring alto sax, viola, trumpet, jazz bass, touch guitar, laptop/electronics, prepared guitar and percussion performing live on stage, in addition to the singers and contemporary dancer. The performance partially improvised through the leadership of Wayne Horvitz.
In addition to multiple developmental residencies throughout the year, an intensive lead up rehearsal week in the performance space will allow the artists to dial in the technical, electro-acoustic music and improvisational components of the opera, ensuring a successful run of shows. There will be a public Q&A to discuss the principle themes with a live audience.
The opera will have a distinctly contemporary look, feel and sound because of the unique vocalists in the group - drawing from Baroque, contemporary classical, soul, noise, rock, gypsy and throat singing - and the improvisational compositional process. Lighting will play the heaviest role in the production's set design and implementation.
The opera aims to acknowledge the impact of rape on our individual and collective psyche while emphasizing the beauty and exquisite spiritual aspect of the human body, physical intimacy, vulnerability and communication.
The ensemble comprises a diverse group of improvisers/composers/instrumentalists who are exploring the division between improvisation and through-composed music: Wayne Horvitz leads Heather Bentley, violist, vocalist/composer/improviser/clarinetist/electronics artist Beth Fleenor; violinist/dancer/improviser/composer Paris Hurley; Trey Gunn of King Crimson, leading virtuoso on the touch guitar; William Hayes, electronics artist/composer/guitarist who will create a live-electronic soundscape; Grammy award-winning bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, Ivan Arteaga, saxophone, Ahamefule J. Oluo, trumpet and vocalists Jimmie Herrod and okanomode.
The collaborative process allows these characters to find their voice and specific music organically, contributing to the expressive power of the opera's message. The drama and cohesion of the opera are anchored by a poetry-based libretto by poet/cellist Rowena Hammill of Trio Pardalote with additional text and storyline by Heather Bentley.
Ishtar will be depicted simultaneously by vocalist Beth Fleenor and dancer Paris Hurley, whose work in the ensemble Double Yoko spans a decade. Ishtar's expansiveness warrants depiction by two artists.
The Ballad of Ishtar is a deeply relevant work for our time, supported by a cast of generative visionaries interested in exploring the subject matter in greater depth through the power of ensemble.