Visual and Media Arts Assistant Professor Amber Vistein’s latest opera is a sci-fi ghost story full of terror, grief, and human connection.
A lab production of Dark Exhalation, a multi-media chamber opera, will be performed Friday, Oct. 20, 7:30-10:30 pm, at the Arts at the Armory Performance Hall in Somerville.
Dark Exhalation tells the story of Lavinia , who returns from her wife, Helen’s, memorial service with her ashes. Troubled by Helen’s transformation into dust, Lavinia begins to imagine that Helen’s spirit has instead fused with the sun. But as the sun’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic and dangerous, Helen’s ghost begins to speak.
Meanwhile, citizen-scientist Wendell is distressed when birds in his neighborhood, disturbed by the solar activity, begin crashing into buildings. He manages to save one, a house sparrow he names Ori, but soon a massive solar storm begins hurtling towards Earth, and Lavinia and Wendell must decide whether to evacuate or stay. Yet the storm’s arrival also brings unexpected connections and kindnesses.
Dark Exhalation, an artistic companion to Vistein’s dissertation, Dark Exhalation: Vibrant Sound Worlds and Queer Atmospherics, uses the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as a framework to reimagine the material world as vibrant and responsive, where rocks weep, birds speak, and the sky darkens in sympathy.
Vistein, who teaches sound design, sound installation, and music production at Emerson, based the sound design of their opera on that of film. Each musician in the opera is amplified, so that every vocal, from a gentle whisper to a full-throated bel canto crescendo, can be picked out.
Dark Exhalation received a 2022 Discovery Grant from OPERA America, supported by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, with earlier grants from New Music USA and the Brown Arts Initiative. The performance is supported by the Somerville Arts Council and Emerson College.