THE ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE
Artwork of the Future begins with a TEDtalk (the first operatic portrayal of a TEDtalk, perhaps). The charismatic speaker preaches a romantic dedication to work, citing the examples of immortal artists like Bach and Van Gogh, whose efforts have remained part of the human experience long after their deaths.
The speaker doesn’t know it, but he has changed the life of the TEDtalk sound technician, Spearmint Lodge, art-school grad and wholly unrecognized maker of “spectator-triggered musical robot installations.” Spearmint wanders the city, turning these ideas over in his mind. As dawn approaches, he stumbles into an all-night coffeehouse and meets singer/songwriter/barista Najeen Teflo. She contracts his new religion like a virus, and they return to his squalid apartment to begin a life of total dedication to their art in spite of the apathy shown it by the rest of the world.
As time passes, however, their conviction begins to wane. They become haunted by a desire to know for certain that their work will finally be recognized three hundred years in the future. As fate would have it, Najeen has met a physicist, Amalia Habitué, working at the margins of science, whose lab has cracked the secret of time travel.
Spearmint and Najeen arrive in the future at the Guggenheim Museum, which proves to be, in fact, full of their work, honoring them as prophetic artists. There are, however, no people in the future. A robot docent explains that all the humans died out, barely noticing, while noodling with their phones, that this was happening.
Returning to the present, the lovers find themselves fiercely divided about what to do. She wants to abandon their dreams of immortality and devote their energies to saving humankind. He doesn’t see a problem with a future populated by robots, so long as the art survives. Will Spearmint and Najeen be torn apart? And can this species be saved?
Rob Handel (libretto) and Eric Moe (music) got their feet wet as a collaborative team with Valkyrie Suite (2012), a mini-opera commissioned by Pittsburgh Opera Theater. The basic premise: Wagner’s nine Valkyries reincarnated as a hotel-room trashing, pizza-gobbling, beer-swilling women’s bowling team. Moe and Handel mightily enjoyed all the resulting incongruities, probably most of all the incongruity of basing a ten-minute piece on a five-hour one, from Sturm und Drang beginning to serene and magical apotheosis. The present project grew out of their eagerness to work together again on a full-length opera.
Given their common interests in comedy and science fiction — combined with an amused obsession with the grandiosity of Richard Wagner - they settled on THE ARTWORK OF THE FUTURE, with themes of apocalypse, time travel, artificial intelligence and their intersection with high art. Time travel itself is a subject that music, of all the arts, is exquisitely equipped to handle. (Plus there’s the challenge of creating a genuine Gesamtkunstwerk der Zukunft, an appealing prospect for any composer).
With its efficient performance forces - four singers, a flexible number of instrumentalists (4-6), electroacoustic tech and video - ARTWORK portrays six characters and a sweep of 300 years. The first half was presented in a highly successful May 2015 workshop at New Dramatists (NYC) with Sharon Harms, soprano, Mary Nessinger, mezzo, Karim Sulayman, tenor, and Tom Meglioranza, baritone, with stage direction by Ken Rus Schmoll, music direction by Jeremy Gill with Eric Wubbels, piano.