Ghosts of Operas Past: John Cage’s Europeras
While so many contemporary composers express the weight of opera’s history and baggage, John Cage revered both in his offerings to the genre. By allowing singers to choose their favorite arias, sung a cappella or against unrelated coincidental accompaniment, he presented them unfettered, juxtaposed, out of sequence, out of time and space, as individual gems to be rethought. Like ghosts of operas past, fragments of classic 78rpm recordings emanate from vintage Victrola along with the Truckeras collage tapes of superimposed operas played as if overheard from the radios of passing vehicles, offering filmy glimpses of bygone performances set against living voices performing their showy war horses. The clarity, sparseness, and lucidity of the more easily tourable chamber work Europeras 5 (mode 36), scored for two singers with piano transcriptions played with Lisztian grandiosity and panache by the late Yvar Mikhashoff, makes it for me the most successful of the mode recorded series.
— Joan La Barbara, Schwann Opus, Summer 1995
“John Cage’s Europeras are the operatic equivalent of channeling…the resulting juxtapositions are as surprising as they are delightful.”
—T.J. Medrek, Jr., TAB
“***** Performance. **** Sound.
The Europeras 3 & 4 are chamber works, premiered in 1990, and are here documented from a beautiful performancegive in Southern California last year. The result is not an opera but the world of opera, all at once. Singers choosearias found in the public domain (Gluck to Puccini); two pianists provide snippets of Liszt piano transcriptions; and six’composers’ operate period Victrolas, on which they play 78-rpm recordinhs, creating a background of scratchiness ascomforting as the whoosh of a waterfall. Chance operations control everything–resulting, maybe, in a counterpoint ofPuccini and Wagner (surprisngly effective) or, maybe, silence. The familiar, here,becomes very new indeed.”
—Mark Swed, BBC Music
EUROPERA 5 performed by Martha Herr (soprano), Gary Burgess (tenor), Yvar Mikhashoff (piano), Jan Williams (victrola) and Don Metz (Truckera). Composer supervised recording of the world premiere. (mode 36)
John Cage on Mode:
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