Table of Contents
4. A Slide Show
10. Keyboard Howls
1. General Description
The offical world premiere of Aletheia will be part of the International Trombone Festival on Friday,
June 30, 2017 at the University of the Redlands near Los Angeles, California. A preview was presented at the University of Music in Trossingen, Germany on January 10, 2016.
is written for singer/instrumentalist,
computer controlled piano, and quadraphonic electronics.
The word “Aletheia” is
one of several ancient Greek words for truth and means “creating a space
where truth can appear.”
Aletheia is an opera singer who is delighted that she has been asked to perform for an opera gala.
only needs to go down to the courtyard and impress the people with her performance…but
she reconsiders, desperate…should she really sing?
Why won’t her feet move?
Does she not know that she lives in a cage, a cage in the form of an
She prepares herself, puts on her makeup, looks out the window and observes the wealthy patrons and comments on what she sees. But in the ruins of Detroit the opera house in the middle of the city has
been neglected, everything has completely collapsed, a grand piano lies tipped over on its side like a
dead whale… Aletheia asks herself if her heart can survive. She tries to telephone Jeremy…a former
lover? No answer. She speaks with him anyway…talk to me… She plays an instrument that stands at the side of her cage… She is alone…or? Shehears a women’s choir… Madness? Hope? Death?
Truth? Hope that her song
can revive the rusting city?
and Performance: Abbie Conant,
trombonist, singer, actress
Text, Direction, Sound Design, Stage Set: William Osborne
2. PDF Score
To download a PDF score of Aletheia click here. The latest version of the score is February 20, 2017.
To download a PDF copy of the text click here. The latest version of the text is February 20, 2017.
4. Slide Show
6. Video (In light and dark versions. Select the one that looks best on your screen.)
The monitor gamma settings of computers vary greatly. We've thus included two edits of the video, one darker and one lighter. Aletheia's face and torso should be well lit, while the cage and her lower body disappear into the shadows. Select the edit that best fits this description. We recommend starting with the darker version, and only switching to the lighter version if it is too dark for your computer.
Please use good headphones to get a sense of the surround sound. We also recommend reading some of the material below before watching them.
The darker lit version.
A copy of the mp4 video of the darker lit version can be downloaded here. (1.2 gigabytes)
The lighter lit version.
A copy of the mp4 video of the lighter lit version can be downloaded here. (1.2 gigabytes)
7. Review of the Avant-premiere
Trossingen Zeitung, January 12, 2017
Opera Singer in An Iron Cage
Abbie Conant unites acting, singing, and trombone in one person
by Jutta Bärsch.
A professor’s concert was announced for Tuesday evening at the University of Music in Trossingen. The hour long offering captivated and convinced through the unity of acting, singing and trombone-playing in one person.
The renowned American trombonist and performance artist Abbie Conant showed that new, experimental music can sound melodic. The vocal material consisted mostly of recitatives, embedded in the sounds of a computer-controlled piano and quadrophonic electronics.
Abbie Conant developed this multimedia performance together with the composer William Osborne, whose music at some points recalled the recitatives in Eugene d'Albert's opera "Tiefland". Osborne was responsible for the stage direction and sound design.
a brightly lit cage on an otherwise black stage, she portrays an opera singer,
Aletheia, who is really looking forward to her performance at a prestigious
gala for the "establishment’s" rich opera lovers.
But during her preparations she begins to doubt: does she not know she lives in a cage, in a cage in the form of an iron maiden?
She begins to sense how wrong the world really is, that "her" wonderful opera house in Detroit stands in a city that is only a shadow of its former glory due to the decline of the automobile industry, and is actually in ruins.
The Suspense Remains
begins to ask existential questions, a women's choir that seems to float above
her answers her. Or is it just a dream? She hears distant melodies from
In the end her trombone playing and the piano blend with the sphere of the surround-sound electronic soundscapes.
Thanks to the detailed program, the performance sung in English was quite understandable. Abbie Conant was able to stand in this cage for 60 minutes, sing, play trombone, and act without losing the suspense even for a second.
A virtuosic achievement by the protagonist and a great performance that presented experimental music in a tonal soundscape.
the article on the Trossingen Zeitung Website here.
Aletheia is excited as she prepares to sing for an opera gala in the courtyard below her window. She
feels words are a form of magic, and that if she finds the right ones they will keep her forever young.
She sometimes touches the mask above her head and sings fragments of a song about the magic of
theater, “Follow me my light as I walk the ways of blood…” There seems to be soft ghost voices in
piano that accompanies her.
She looks out the window to describe the guests in the courtyard below. She tries to reach her lover
Jeremy with her cell phone but he does not answer. She feels the breeze from the window and hopes
will raise her song to the sky.
She recalls that the gala below is only for rich people, and wonders if they would even notice if she
not show up.
She sings about how our ballads dream us into being, each word etching a scene. She says dreams
fall into other dreams, and tells of one where a shark ripped her body in two, “As I watched fading
into death, liquid smoke of my own screams, rusty red garlanding all around me. I see each word
and reddish, hemoglobin grammar.”
She wonders why she is having trouble going down to sing. Is it the people, the music, her lack of
courage? “Music it seems has become a bit hard of hearing, it shuffles around like a ghost in an old
She hopes her trombone might help and begins playing it, “something for opulent patrons with
nothing ambiguous in their lives, except of course, their financial transactions.” Her frenetic playing
is a pastiche of fragments, “but what can we say in a world so completely unhinged.” The times
are too dangerous, “So I’ll continue with something abstract, with nary a word of protest, or they
our funding away.”
She puts her trombone away and vows that she will sing unscripted truths, that she will hallow this
room with her song.
She sings about an old woman sitting on the curb who gave her directions to the opera house, the
ruin where people used to sing. It looks like a “giant had picked it up to see what treasure might fall
out, then replaced in the ruin of mid Detroit to look for better booty. Stage planks rotten, plaster
fallen, in the corner lies a crippled chandelier petrified with decades of dust, a bombed church of
Then the old lady sang, “How will my heart live?
My voice is full of dust.”
Aletheia takes heart and decides to sing about her hero, the red headed Leonardo Da Vinci, and
imagines that she is having afternoon tea with him. “Hand him a banjo and hear how he cavorts on
the strings.” But even he would ask, “Is there a serum against the flower crushers? Can you
the grammar, the grammar of the grim rapers?”
She takes her phone and tries again to contact Jeremy who still does not answer. Has he
vanished too (like the opera house,) “Into the splashless pool of silent losses, your fine hands.
Soundlessly singing, dreaming, heart-strung gestures, keyboard howls.” As her thoughts become
more fragmented and insecure, she hears a choir of her own voice singing, “Wind, sand, and water
wash over me, unmoving in a desert place.” The party is ending, but her feet will not move. She
tries to take hope, “Singing is transcendence. What will save us if not song?” The choir responds
that she “will sing without her robe, no way to shut her eyes, a glistening body in the light.” She
with Jeremy to speak to her but there is only silence.
She tells of another dream, the opera house long ago, women in hand-worked lace, fat bespatted
tycoons, tightly cinched whalebone corsets. She hears the distant, sad aria of an opera diva and
the ruins of the opera house before her eyes.
In a pile of rubble an old wreck of a grand piano plays the sad aria of
our last night on earth. When
she awoke, “the faint smell of coal smoke and honey suckle lingered in the
gone echo of the soprano’s high C.”
sings some fragments from her song, “Follow me my light, as I walk the ways
of blood…,” but she repeatedly breaks off to express her doubts and exhort
herself to continue.
She becomes more impassioned, “Time to inhale the fetid air and sing,
Time to bear my breast to eternity.
A lost war with no shots fired. Here downtown in the opera house, paid
for by the patricians of rot, the patrons of neglect.”
can take her no further.
She plays a lyrical solo on her trombone.
forces herself to try one last time, “Sing.
Sing away the rusty cities.
Fill them with song’s edgeless dreams.”
She tries to find transcendence through her last song, “Breeze blow,
fool of my soul.
Play me as your cloudless horn. Pull me, sweep me into flight.
Fill me with your soft powers.
Blow my arms into wings.”
Some of our goals during our 40 years of work in music theater:
10. Keyboard Howls
Many people have heard of the term “orchestral operas,” like those written by Wagner, where the orchestra plays an especially central role. With Aletheia, we have tried to explore the idea of a “piano opera” -- the idea that the sounds of a piano are so complex and rich that they can narrate a story and bring a character to life. In most of our works, we set the voice clearly above the accompaniment, but with Aletheia we have tried to immerse the voice in the piano as if Aletheia herself is a ghost that rises out of the hidden sonorities of its strings.
For those with the ears and minds to hear them, the notes of pianos are full of ghosts. Each piano hammer and string is different, as is every tuning and every attack and damper movement. A world of unique overtones and interferences rise out of each note. Each one howls and shimmers and cries in a different way, further amplified by the uniqueness of every sound board. And those ghostly keyboard howls have a dialog with the acoustic ghosts that exist in every room.
Much of this effect is lost on digital pianos, so when I composed Aletheia I tried to find those cousin ghosts that exist in the electronic world -- sounds produced by similar overtones, resonances, and interferences. I then occasionally placed them along with some of the piano notes with an almost imperceptible softness so that ghost sounds weave in and out of an underworld between the piano’s notes. The ghosts are often almost invisible, but sometimes they become clearly audible. And as the work reaches its climatic points, the ghosts sometimes leave the shadows completely and roar into the forefront of the sonic world.
In the same way, Aletheia’s being is also a ghost rising out of the piano. To our minds, and in our musical world, we think of Robert Schumann as one of the spirits behind this work. He was especially adept at writing music for the piano that seemed to derive in part from the ghosts in the strings. We even picture him in his asylum, very sober of mind, playing the piano in a timeless and immaterial world where the being of Aletheia rises out of the strings and hovers above the instrument to tell her story about opera galas and the patrons of neglect in the ruins of Detroit. The ghosts in piano strings become an invocation, a form of magic that brings a world to life, a gentle breeze that she hopes will raise her voice to the sky.
This is, of course, an insane idea, but maybe a little less so for those who hear the ghosts in the notes of pianos, the keyboard howls, the spectral world of the piano’s specters, the ephemeral operas in Robert and Clara’s ghost minds.
It is in the mysteries of resonance that the space is created where the ghosts of the piano can materialize. Similarly, altheia is one of several ancient Greek words for truth that roughly means "to create a space where truth can appear." Aletheia is in search of that space in a debased society, a world where she hopes there is a space for the ghostly whispers of transcendent truth, a resonance that will bring her freedom.
11. During the 2017-2018 season, we performed Aletheia in 28 cities. Click here to see the itinerary and photos of our university residencies that were part of these tours.