Photograph by Steve McCurry (c) Magnum Photos, used with permission
CITIES OF SALT
Music by Mohammed Fairouz
Libretto by Rosalind Morris & Yvette Christiansë
Based on the novel by Abdelrahman Munif, as translated by Peter Theroux
About Cities of Salt
The year is 1932. For centuries, the oasis of Wadi al-Uyoun has been the destination and the departing point for caravans, which bring news of distant worlds. But now, unimagined strangers are about to arrive. Beneath the sands and the cool waters of the oasis, where camels and caravans meet, oil has been discovered. Now, the world of the Bedouins who make their lives in the rhythm of rain and wind are about to be overwhelmed--by an industry as thirsty for oil as for water. Forced to leave their quiet refuge, the Bedouins journey to the sea, where a small city is becoming a great port and a skyline will soon be lit by the fires of oil refineries. In this new world, the surviving Bedouins learn the meaning of the prophecies spoken by their forebears, and come to understand that the love of power fuels history as much as oil. Caught in the whirlwind of forces embodied in the oil Company and the local oligarchy, they must stake their own claim on humanity. Against the backdrop of this epic transformation, love, grief, rage, courage and cowardice vie for preeminence in the hearts of the men and women beneath whose feet the black gold runs.
The music of Cities of Salt moves, with the narrative, from the lush sounds of a world dominated by the rhythms of nature, to the terrifying instrumentation of machines. Using all the techniques of the operatic tradition, Fairouz’s composition weaves Arabic folk idiom into the fabric of Western orchestration to mark the arrival, into the desert oasis, of foreign technologies and ways of being. The result is a vast and changing soundscape. As the individual characters are displaced from the world of the water-wheel to the cities that shelter beneath the clouds of oil refineries, lyricism gives way to a maddening discord. The emerging contest over power sounds forth in a growing frenzy. But amid the apocalyptic imagery, and against the orchestral tension, the singular voices of the characters rise in poignantly memorable song.
About the Creators
MOHAMMED FAIROUZ (composer)
Straddling Eastern and Western idioms, Mohammed Fairouz, one of the most frequently performed composers of his generation, has emerged as a force on the musical scene. Praised by the New York Times as "warmly sympathetic", his music has been received at venues such as Carnegie Hall, Boston’s Symphony Hall, Kennedy Center and internationally throughout the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Australia. He has received commissions from Musicians for Harmony, Northeastern University, Imani Winds, Cygnus Ensemble, Counter)induction, Alea III (Boston University), the Five Boroughs Music Festival, the Second Instrumental Unit, among others. The composer will have six world premieres in 2011-12, including his Piano Sonata No. 2 (“The Last resistance”), his fist wind quintet ("Jebel Lebnan"), a clarinet quintet for the Seattle Chamber Players, an extended art song, and his third symphony. A new multi-movement choral work called Anything Can Happen marks a unique and involved collaboration between Fairouz and the poet Seamus Heaney and has been commissioned by a consortium of leading choirs across the country including the Grinnell Singers, New York Cantori, The Back Bay Chorale and the Marsh Choir. An album of Fairouz’s chamber music is slated for release on the Sono Luminus label on November 15. His most recent American Opera Projects collaboration resulted in a chamber work for voice and string quartet For Victims slated for release on the Naxos label with the Borromeo String Quartet in the 2012-13 season. www.mohammedfairouz.com
ROSALIND MORRIS (co-librettist)
Rosalind Morris is an anthropologist and cultural critic, essayist, poet and filmmaker. She has written widely on the politics and poetics of life in the mining industry, and about the role of the mass media in changing forms of everyday existence. Her poetry has appeared in such journals as The Capilano Review, Literary Imagination, and Carapace; her literary essays in New Ohio Review, PMLA, Convolution 1. She is currently collaborating on two book projects with South African artist, William Kentridge, and her book on the art of Clive van den Berg, Unlearning the Grounds of Art, was published by the Goodman Gallery (Johannesburg) in September 2011. A professor of anthropology at Columbia University, Morris is also the founder and editor of the ‘Africa List,’ for Seagull Books. Her feature film, Gertrude Stein’s Brewsie and Willie, based on her own adaptation of Stein’s late novella, will be released in 2012. She has received fellowships from the Institutes for Advanced Study in Princeton and Stellenbosch, as well as the Institute for Cultural Technologies and Media Philosophy in Weimar, Germany.
YVETTE CHRISTIANSË (co-librettist)
Yvette Christiansë is a South African-born poet, novelist, scholar, and librettist. Her novel Unconfessed (Other Press, 2006; Kwela Books, 2007; Querido, 2007) was a finalist for the Hemingway/PEN Prize, a recipient of a 2007 ForeWord Magazine BEA Award, and shortlisted for the 2009 University of Johannesburg Prize and 2008 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. She is the author of two books of poetry: Imprendehora (Kwela Books/Snail Press, South Africa, 2009) and Castaway (Duke Uni. Press, 1999). Imprendehora, the misspelling of the Portuguese emprendedora (or enterprise) was a finalist for the Via Afrika Herman Charles Bosman Prize in 2010 and Castaway was a finalist in the 2001 PEN International Poetry Prize. She is also the recipient of The Harri Jones Memorial Prize for poetry (Australia). Her book on Toni Morrison´s poetics, titled Toni Morrison: An Ethical Poetics, is forthcoming from Fordham University Press. Her libretto, Vitamin R was performed in Johannesburg in June 2005. It was a contemporary miracle play based on the life of St. Roche, patron saint of plague victims and bridged to the current HIV/AIDS pandemic in South Africa. She is a Professor of English and Africana Studies at Barnard College, New York.
March 4, 2012
Followed by a discussion and Q&A with the creators
The Great Room - South Oxford Space, Brooklyn, NY
Directed by Erwin Maas. Performances by David Arkema, Lynn Berg, Ivanna Cullinan, Tuomas Hiltunen, Denice Kondik, Jay Leibowitz, Mateo Moreno, Timothy McCown Reynolds, and Alyssa Simon