Alberto Savinio’s “Les chants de la mi-mort”


June 21, 2018

At ISSUE Project Room: 22 Boerum Place, Brooklyn, NY 11201

U.S. premiere of Alberto Savinio’s “Les chants de la mi-mort” with new work by Nick Hallett

Thursday, June 21st, ISSUE Project Room, in partnership with CIMA, presents an evening of experimental opera curated by Lauren Rosati. The program features the first American re-staging of Alberto Savinio’s 1914 avant-garde operetta Les chants de la mi-mort (Songs of the Half-Dead) and the New York City concert premiere of the latest scene in composer-vocalist Nick Hallett’s serial opera, To Music. The performances take place prior to the final weekend of CIMA’s critically acclaimed Alberto Savinio exhibition.


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Photos: Jay Isolini courtesy ISSUE Project Room

Originally staged in the offices of Apollinaire’s review Les Soirées des Paris on May 21st, 1914, where it was performed in French and Italian, Savinio’s Les chants de la mi-mort centers around a family drama during the period of the nineteenth-century Italian Risorgimento. Savinio intended this intermedia work, which combined music, literature, theatre, set design, and costumes, as a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk: a total work of art. The operetta’s characters (among them “a mad king” and “the bald man”) and scenic descriptions (including a tower, an equestrian statue, and cannon) inspired the metaphysical paintings of de Chirico. The dramatic text, as well as the piano score, incorporate noises and lighting effects—the sound of artillery fire, the flashing beam of a lighthouse—which are hallmarks of early Italian Futurist theater. The theme of this dissonant, absurdist operetta has very little to do with the Risorgimento itself; rather, its subject matter and mood pertains to Savinio’s conception of “half-death”: a state suspended between dream and reality, requiring an expansion of one’s faculties of perception to understand the world. While documentation of the original costumes and sets has been lost, and there is no information on the relationship between the music and libretto, this modern reconstruction of Les chants de la mi-mort relies on extant materials and primary sources to reimagine the production for new audiences.

The operetta will be presented in two acts: first, a dramatic reading of the libretto by mezzo-soprano Lucy Dhegrae and baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco, with an original video by Reid Farrington and a score of noises by percussionist Clara Warnaar; and second, a premiere performance of the original score by the pianist Kathleen Supové, with vocals by Dhegrae and Diaz-Moresco and additional percussion by Warnaar. The whole production runs 40-50 minutes.

In line with CIMA’s mission to present contemporary artists alongside the work of modern Italian artists, and in the spirit of inter-generational creative dialogue, this evening’s presentation of Savinio’s 1914 opera will also include the New York City concert premiere of the latest scene in composer-vocalist Nick Hallett’s opera-in-process, To Music, a dark comedy that looks at the nature of inspiration and originality through the cautionary tale of a fictional composer’s behavior on social media—a portrait of the artist on Facebook.

Video Designer Josh Thorson builds a visual landscape crowded with emails, texts, instant messages, and wall posts to set the scene, freeing the opera’s characters from needing language to tell their stories. Glossolalia, poetry, and profanity weave through Romantic Lieder, modernist dissonance, digital ringtones, electronic pop, and the sounds of music not-yet-written, emerging in realtime from the mind of its “creator.” Voices sing together while bodies remain apart, in a superimposition of private moments, that obscures boundaries between the real and virtual. Amid the noise, the opera attempts to answer the ages-old question, where does music come from? The production features vocalists Mellissa HughesPeter Alex Stewart and Amelia Watkins in collaboration with instrumentalists Jeanann DaraMelinda Faylor, and Sarah Bernstein. Hallett also performs with the ensemble. The scene runs 25 minutes.


Hailed by poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire as the paragon of a Renaissance man, Alberto Savinio (1891–1952) was not only an exceptional visual artist and member of the Parisian avant-garde, but also a gifted pianist, musicologist, set designer, critic, writer and composer of both music and dramatic theater. Born in Athens to Italian parents, Savinio wrote a number of piano compositions, operas, and ballet scores before producing Les chants de la mi-mort on May 21, 1914 at the offices of the journal Les Soirées des Paris. In attendance at the concert were artists Pablo Picasso, Giorgio de Chirico (Savinio’s brother), Francis Picabia, Alexander Archipenko, Ardengo Soffici, and Max Jacob; poet Blaise Cendrars; and dealer Paul Guillaume. In the June 1, 1914, issue of the Mercure de France, Apollinaire later recounted the violent passion with which the composer performed: “I was fascinated and at the same time amazed because Savinio abused the instrument he was playing to such a degree that, at the end of each work, pieces of the upright fell off, so another piano had to be brought in, and was immediately smashed to pieces. I am sure that within two years he will destroy every piano in Paris.” Despite his significant contributions to twentieth century art and music, Savinio is today virtually unknown outside of Italy.

“Vocal versatility and an omnivorous curiosity” (New York Times) are the hallmarks of mezzo-soprano Lucy Dhegrae, a passionate vocalist with a flexible technique. She has performed with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Talea Ensemble, and the Albany Symphony, among others, at venues such as Miller Theatre, Lincoln Center, and the Kennedy Center. Dhegrae, who is “everywhere new music is being sung” (New York Classical Review), regularly premieres new vocal works and operas, and has worked closely with such composers as Unsuk Chin, Jason Eckardt, Susan Botti, Alexandra Vrebalov, and Sky Macklay. Her opera premieres include Trillium J by Anthony Braxton, Andy: A Popera (Opera Philadelphia/Bearded Ladies Cabaret), A Marvelous Order by Judd Greenstein, and Ashley Fure’s The Force of Things. Dhegrae’s festival appearances include Darmstadt (Germany), Klangspuren (Austria), Mostly Mozart, Bard Music Festival, Gesher Music Festival (St. Louis), and Aldeburgh Music Festival (as a Britten-Pears Young Artist). She directs Resonant Bodies Festival, a festival of contemporary vocal music that takes place in New York City and beyond, which she founded in 2013. She graduated from the Bard College Conservatory Graduate Vocal Arts Program (MM in Vocal Performance ‘12) as well as the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre, and Dance (BM in Vocal Performance ‘08) and is a core member of the new music ensemble Contemporaneous.

An active interpreter of Art Song, Opera and new music, baritone Mario Diaz-Moresco is a versatile performer with a strong stage presence. He studied at the University of Colorado, the University of Southern California and recently completed the Professional Studies Diploma program at Mannes The New School, where he is a student of Diana Soviero. He has been a young artist with Central City Opera, The Glimmerglass Festival, Chautauqua Opera and a Stern Fellow at Songfest. Highlights from recent seasons include recitals with pianist Spencer Myer on California’s “InConcert Sierra” series, the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Series in Chicago and the Rocky River Chamber Music Society of Ohio, in addition to Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, Baritone in Hydrogen Jukebox, William in The Fall of the House of Usher, playing the lead role in Robert Ashley’s Dust, which was named one of the ten best classical music performances of 2017 by the New York Times, and premiering the song cycle The Wanderlusting of Joseph C. by Joan La Barbara at Roulette, a performance which was repeated at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

Reid Farrington is a theater director, new media artist and stage designer. His most recent work, CasablancaBox, was commissioned as part of HARP at HERE Arts Center and was nominated for two Drama Desk Awards, Outstanding Projection Design and Unique Theatrical Experience. Other work includes: The Return, about the accidental destruction and assembly of Tullio Lombardo’s Adam (commissioned by and performed at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015); Tyson vs. Ali, a hybrid theater sports event (PS 122 Coil Festival 2014); Reid Farrington’s A Christmas Carol, which mixed live performers with video projected characters from 35 different film versions of Dickens’ tale (Abrons Art Center in 2011 & 2012); The Passion Project, based on The Passion of Joan of Arc (PS/K2 festival in Copenhagen, Denmark 2007, with subsequent productions at 3LD, tours to Budapest, Vancouver and Regina, SK); and Gin & “It”, based on Hitchcock’s Rope (Wexner Center, 2010). From 2001–2008, Reid was a technical artist for The Wooster Group where he designed video, hardware, and software systems for the integration of video and sound for six of the company’s productions: To You, the Birdie!, Brace Up!, Poor Theater, House/Lights, WHO’S YOUR DADA?! and Hamlet. He has toured Wooster productions to Moscow, Paris, Berlin, Istanbul, Amsterdam, Melbourne, Brussels, Athens. Reid held creative residencies at the Wexner Center for the Arts, Eyebeam Art & Technology Center, 3LD Art & Technology Center and Abrons Art Center.

Nick Hallett is a Brooklyn-based composer, vocalist, and cultural producer working between the worlds of sound, art, and performance. “He draws on a wide range of seemingly contrasting musical genres—from indie rock to early Romantic to electronica to opera—to create arrangements that deploy the voice as an instrument” (Art21). His first opera, Whispering Pines 10, co-authored with artist Shana Moulton, and based upon her video art series, was recently adapted for the internet. Hallett composed a trilogy of dance- theater scores for choreographer-director Bill T. Jones’s Analogy cycle, which he has been touring with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane company for the past three years. He received a 2017 New York Dance & Performance “Bessie” award for his music in Variations on Themes from Lost & Found, a reconstruction of work by choreographer John Bernd (1953-1988). Hallett’s work has been presented in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, Ecstatic Music Festival, Hayden Planetarium, The Public Theater, Town Hall, Performa, The Kitchen, Roulette, National Sawdust, and Le Poisson Rouge. Hallett is the music director of the Joshua Light Show and co-directs the Darmstadt new music series with Zach Layton, which presented the critically acclaimed Essential Repertoire festival at ISSUE Project Room from 2008 through 2013.

Kathleen Supové is one of America’s most acclaimed and versatile contemporary music pianists, known for continually reshaping the definition of a pianist. In May 2012, she received the John Cage Award from ASCAP for “the artistry and passion with which she performs, commissions, records, and champions the music of our time.” Supové’s annual series of solo concerts, The Exploding Piano, is a multimedia experience using electronics, theatrical elements, vocal rants, staging, and collaboration with artists from other disciplines. “What Ms. Supové is really exploding is the piano recital as we have known it, a mission more radical and arguably more needed” (New York Times). She has performed with a laptop orchestra (Sideband), robots (Lemur), and XReality (media artist Karina Hisayasa). Recent projects include The Debussy Effect, on New Focus Recordings; Battery, a choreographed kickboxing concerto by Randall Woolf (choreographed by Heidi Latsky); Eye to Ivory, an upcoming CD on Starkland, for vocalizing, theatrical, extended piano techniques, to be released in Fall 2018; Exploding Piano with Hitchcock and Kubrick Etudes by Nicole Lizée; and many others She has developed many of her Exploding Piano events as an Artist in Residence at NYC’s Flea Theater. Kathleen Supové is a Yamaha Artist.

Clara Warnaar is a drummer, percussionist and composer. She has played with renowned groups in the contemporary music scene, including the International Contemporary Ensemble (Brooklyn Academy of Music and Mostly Mozart at Lincoln Center), So Percussion (A Gun Show at BAM), and the American Modern Ensemble (Stewart Copeland’s opera The Cask of Amontillado), and has premiered and/or recorded the music of Pauchi Sasaki, Missy Mazzoli, Ingrid Laubrock, Nico Muhly, and Ted Hearne, among others. As a film musician, she’s appeared on the scores of The Fate of the Furious, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and is mid-project with Aaron Zigman (The Notebook, The Proposal). Theater and opera credits include: Martin Creed’s The Back Door at Park Avenue Armory, productions with OnSite Opera, and Pig Iron Theater’s A Period of Animate Existence. Clara maintains an active schedule touring, writing and recording as the drummer for the band Infinity Shred, and is a Sabian artist. In between projects, Clara is also a teaching artist for Bridge Arts Ensemble, bringing music to public schools all over the Adirondacks.

Lauren Rosati is the Assistant Curator in the Leonard A. Lauder Research Center for Modern Art, Department of Modern and Contemporary, at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. She is also a PhD Candidate at the City University of New York, Graduate Center, where she is completing her dissertation, “Mechanical Kingdoms: Sound Technologies and the Avant-Garde, 1928-1933.” She is also a guest curator at ISSUE Project Room, a pioneering nonprofit venue for experimental, multidisciplinary performance.


Founded in 2003, ISSUE Project Room is a pioneering nonprofit performance center, presenting projects by interdisciplinary artists that expand the boundaries of artistic practice and stimulate critical dialogue in the broader community. ISSUE serves as a leading cultural incubator, facilitating the commission and premiere of innovative new works.

Nestled in the Catskill Mountains, Mount Tremper Arts (MTA) is an artist-founded laboratory space dedicated to supporting artists in the creation and presentation of new works of contemporary art. Founded in 2008 by visual artist Mathew Pokoik and choreographer Aynsley Vandenbroucke, MTA cultivates generative artistic communities while making experimental contemporary art accessible to its diverse local community.

CIMA would like to thank Mazzoleni Art, Ted Ewing, Maria Gliozzi, Barbara Hawthorn, Lawrence Gray, Renato Miracco, and David Dean for their support of this production.

Yamaha CFX concert grand piano provided by Yamaha Artist Services, New York.