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‘Flowers’ for the dead: Opera is a tribute to its late composer

Winds of change: Images of the Great War will be projected on sail-like screens during the multimedia opera “The Nubian Word for Flowers,” which deals in part with a British commander who died in 1914.
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This opera is a musical tribute to the dead.

An experimental multimedia opera about the Nubian diaspora will open in Boerum Hill next week — one year after the death of one of its creators. “The Nubian Word for Flowers,” playing on Nov. 30 at Roulette, was written by composer Pauline Oliveros, who died in November of 2016, in collaboration with her wife, the playwright and artist Ione, who says that completing the project is a way to honor her wife’s legacy.

“This is bringing awareness to the diaspora of the Nubian people to the world, but the mission of this project at this point is to finish it,” said Ione. “Pauline and I worked collegially on the project, traveling from Venice to Cairo, working with Egyptian artists.”

The show reflects the experience of the pair traveling to Egypt, and also deals with the effects of the Aswan High Dam in southern Egypt in 1964, which flooded the ancestral home of the Nubian people and caused a mass migration across the world. The piece, subtitled “A Phantom Opera,” also explores the “ghosts of colonialism,” with an appearances from Lord Horatio Herbert Kitchener of Khartoum, the British officer who oversaw the region during the late 1800s.

The piece will use songs, music, and video projection to tell its story, with images projected onto triangular screens meant to reflect the sails of boats from the 19th century. The video elements are a rare example of technology contributing to the telling of a story, according to the founder of Experiments in Opera, which is co-producing the evening.

“Experimental opera tends to shy away from multimedia, because the question is about what the best way is to serve their opera. When people use video because they want to substitute for and create a big experience otherwise, it will just be cheap,” said Aaron Siegel.

Oliveros was a giant in the field of electronic and experimental music, and she founded the “deep listening” approach, which deals with focusing the audience’s attention on echoes and reverberant sounds. The play incorporates some of Oliveros’s approach, according to Siegel

“As an audience member, there are opportunities to listen deeply in the second half,” he said.

Ione and Oliveros’s opera will be followed by a work-in-progress performance of “Rainbird,” an opera based on the work of poet Janet Frame.

“The Nubian Word for Flowers: A Phantom Opera” and “Scenes from Rainbird” at Roulette [509 Atlantic Ave. at Third Avenue in Boerum Hill, (917) 267–0368, www.roulette.org]. Nov. 30 at 8 pm. $25 ($20 in advance, $15 students and seniors).

Updated 1:34 am, July 10, 2018
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