Hockey Noir: The Opera
A bunch of years ago, I was sitting at a LA Kings Hockey game, noticing the music the game made. The skates on the ice. The slap of the sticks. The puck being handled and passed around. The grunts. The whistles. The roar of the crowd. The bursts of music clips. The Zamboni. And in that moment, I knew that I had come up with the idea that for my new opera it would have something to do with Hockey.
I once heard that Bertolt Brecht said something along the lines that the purest form of theater is live sports. That in the arena, the drama is in the game. The ending is not yet written. And there is a direct conversation between the players and the spectators.
Maybe this is the reason why I have always been a sucker for a sports story. Although I don’t play at all, I love to watch a game. Hockey is my preference, mostly because of the intense drama that it brings. I know that this is the reason that I wrote a Hockey Noir Opera, the second commissioned by Ensemble contemporary de Montreal (ECM+) and its artistic director Veronique Lacroix , which is having its world premiere in Montreal May 3 & 4th. ECM+ has been creating multidisciplinary new music shows for 30 years and often puts together composers with different kinds of artists.
In 2006, Veronique introduced me to Andre Risitic, my composer and collaborator for our first opera, LES AVENTURES DE MADAME MERVEILLE, also produced by ECM+. Here we blended opera and comics. I came up with the concept because it struck me that opera’s making use of supertitles functioned as a sort of stand in for comic book captions. That opera was made up of four movements. We stitched together a piece that was supposed to give the impression of sifting through a random pile of genre comics. For my part, the words, I worked with four comic book artists, Michael Cho, Cameron Stewart, Pascal Girard and Scott Hepburn on the art elements and those were with projected to go along with Andre Ristic’s wonderful music to give the impression of being comic book pages come to life. It worked really well and Andre and I knew that we wanted to collaborate again and that it was an idea that we wanted to push further.
Being a comic book writer myself (currently writing Shade, the Changing Woman at DC Comics and Soupy Leaves Home at Dark Horse) who is very interested in hybrids in graphic storytelling, I wanted to use the same concept of sequential art mixed with supertitles and captions that we had experimented with in our previous opera and use that our new opera. But I knew that I wanted it to be more dynamic than what we’d done before, which had some movement, but felt more like a page. I knew that I wanted there to be more flexibility in the images. This time I wanted a little more of a three-dimensional aspect to it. I was trying to find another genre that used strong visuals to tell a story and could lend itself well to using aspects of comics, but that was slightly different than what we had done before with mixing comics and opera.
I had settled on it being a hockey story, but it took me a moment to get to the idea of using Film Noir as the visual construct for story and imagery. I am a huge Noir fan, as is Andre, and in thinking about Noir and the play of shadow and light and what a profound visual language it has, it seemed perfect for our purposes. Noir also has the benefit of having easily identifiable iconic characters like the detective, the femme fatale, the mobster. Once we hit on noir, a story about the disappearance of a hockey player during the playoffs between Montreal and Toronto in the 1950s and the subsequent search for what happened emerged from my discussions with André. While it doesn’t seem like the most traditional two genres to do a mash up with, to me it makes perfect sense. Game on!
I wanted the Hockey Noir to feel as though the story had more movement and layers than we had accomplished before. I discovered and recruited a fabulous young artist Kimberlyn Porter, who had done her grad thesis telling a story sequentially through noir posters. It was exactly what we were looking for. Kimberlyn and I set about coming up with the basic visual elements for the story, which will be projected with captions and dialogues on multiple screens. Through layering, we have more control over the sequential elements of the story and get the singers acting the story, in concert with it being told visually. It’s all brought together by ECM+’s artistic production team lead by Veronique Lacroix who recruited stage director Marie Josee Chartier, videast Serge Maheu and set designer Cheryl Lalonde
And at long last, on May 3 & 4th in Montreal (and May 10th and 11th in Toronto in conjunction with TCAF/Continuum Music) HOCKEY NOIR: THE OPERA for which I wrote a libretto, will have its world premiere.
I'm in the midst of couple of weeks' worth of lectures, public events and teaching, and you can catch me in Toronto (for Word on the Street, Seeding Utopias and Resisting Dystopias and 6 Degrees); Newry, ME (Maine Library Association) and Portland, ME (in conversation with James Patrick Kelly).
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