Robert Ashley on blending opera and TV

…and weird music. From Times Online:

When he comes to the ICA in London for the UK premiere of his opera Foreign Experiences next month, he will be overseeing a stage production: “I have to perform the pieces on stage in order to get them performed at all,” he says. It will also be slimmed down from the original seven-voice version of 1994 to an opera for two voices — that of his son Sam Ashley and another member of what he terms his “band”, Jacqueline Humbert. To mark the occasion, the ICA will also screen Perfect Lives. It’s 25 years since its first TV success, yet Ashley is farther than ever from realising his dream of opera for television. But, even at 79, he’s patient. He’s even writing an opera-cum-novel called Quicksand. “I still believe it will happen,” he says.

Ashley was raised in unlikely avant-garde soil in the Midwest; his father was a postal worker, his mother laboured in a factory. As a boy he listened to jazz and popular music. While that might seem strange, given his tastes, he says he has no interest in the European opera tradition. He likens today’s opera houses to museums, forever visiting centuries past. He also believes that the English language struggles to rise above the full-bodied strains of traditional opera, so he draws on Minimalism to create more restrained sounds that allow his singers — and himself, as he generally performs in his own operas — to communicate their rather mesmerising incantations. Perfect Lives is typical: the sets are simple, a few props and TV screens, and performers sing lines directly to camera like TV announcers.

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