Eileen Myles’s Hell

EILEEN MYLES has written thousands of poems since she gave her first reading at CBGB’s in 1974. Bust Magazine calls her “the rock star of modern poetry” and The New York Times says she’s “a cult figure to a generation of post-punk females forming their own literary avant garde.”

Now she’s set her sights on opera. Friday night is opening night for the The People’s Opera presentation of Hell, a contemporary opera written by Myles with composer Michael Webster. It runs for two weeks at P.S.122.

Michael Webster is a composer and recording artist working in Los Angeles. He has worked in the studio with artists as diverse as Van Dyke Parks, Negativland, and Winnie the Pooh. Most recently he has concentrated on setting contemporary poetry to music: art songs, oratorio, and opera.

Webster’s composition for HELL takes the rhythms of speech as its point of departure, changing speed and meter every second or two. Just as Myles’ libretto gathers power with one short line after another, Webster cobbles together an almost constant stream of melody out of fragments of vernacular music. The singers are accompanied by a small chamber ensemble, with strings, harpsichord, and vibraphone.

HELL employs frank and lyrical language and an exalted baroque style to tear away the veils obscuring corporate silence and global disaster. Inspired by Dante’s Inferno and post-9/11 events, HELL takes up an elegiac and musical cudgel on behalf of free speech and sings out against the endless waging of war.

HELL is by Michael Webster and Eileen Myles, directed by David Chambers and conducted by Jonathan Yates.The cast includes Juliana Snapper as Raphael, Matthew Chellis as Brine, David Adam Moore as Lewis, Danielle Freeman as The Frog, Michael Turay as The Gnome, Janna Baty as Dorothy/Raphael cover, Patrick Cook as Father Tree, as Thomas, and Amy Bils as ensemble member.

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