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Michael Gordon

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Chaos (1994)
Red Poppy
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Chamber Opera
Year Composed
1 Hours 20 Minutes
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, 2 Baritones
Programme Note
Michael Gordon Chaos (1994)
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Cast List:
DR. ANNA LENEHAN, a rogue physicist driven to research Chaos.
DR. LORENZ BOLESLAW, her partner, whose own obsession with their experiment is nearly as great as their love for one another.
DR. MARIE CURIE, who discovered radium with Pierre Curie. Brilliant and humble, she avoids personal gain. In the Poland of her youth she worked underground against the Czar and has remained intensely political. Still deeply in love with Pierre, she's now an inhabitant of the Zone of Chaos. Dressed in an old, acid-stained lab coat, she emanates a blue radioactive glow. In Chaos, she is thirty-six, the age at which she was awarded her first Nobel Prize.
DR. PIERRE CURIE, the co-discoverer of radium. A brilliant but awkward man who lives in bliss with Marie in Chaos where he is eternally forty-four years old. Though less political than Marie, he was a Dreyfus supporter. Pierre feels that Marie is a superhuman being who has escaped human laws. He's dressed in nineteenth century, lab-worn, formal attire that also glows radioactively.
DR. R. GEORGE AGUABONE, Director of the National Institute of Science, one of the leading scientists to emerge from Los Alamos, a Nobel Laureate in quantum physics.

Composer note:
Chaos was conceived and written with librettist Matthew Maguire. Loosely based on chaos theory, Chaos is a fast-paced, science-fiction opera in 25 short scenes for five singers and electronic made audio.

––Michael Gordon

Dr. Anna Fitzroy is a rogue physicist driven to research chaos. Dr. Lorenz Boleslaw is her partner whose own obsession with their experiment is nearly as great as their love for one another. Years of heartbreaking labor finally pay off when they penetrate to the heart of the Chaos Zone, where Marie and Pierre Curie appear as their navigators and reveal to them the secrets of chaos. Fitzroy and Boleslaw proudly report their results to their mentor, Dr. Aguabone, the head of the Institute of Science, a giant of Los Alamos, and a Nobel laureate in quantum physics.

Within the scientific world there has always been a battle between two forces: those fighting for and those against the evolution of science. Deeply threatened by chaos, Dr. Aguabone, while pretending to defend Fitzroy and Boleslaw, secretly arranges their arrest. They are promised ''freedom'' to work if they recant. Realizing Aguabone's true nature, the scientists struggle with a moral dilemma that threatens to divide them. They escape from jail and, with Marie and Pierre's help, fight insanity, open a passage to the Chaos Zone, trap Aguabone, and broadcast his meltdown in Chaos on TV. All rejoice.

––Matthew Maguire

Nebulae and flames, clouds and crystal networks flash across scrims; operatic voices declaim above ratcheting polyrhythms and notes frayed by static and distortion. CHAOS finds all sorts of visual and sonic analogues to the chaos theory being pursued by its hero and heroine, in a technology-happy opera that romanticizes science as successfully as any work since EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH. It's no wonder that chaos theory appeals to musicians. The interplay between pattern and disorder is one of music's central and sublime mysteries. Michael Gordon's score nods to the wheels-within-wheels Minimalism of Philip Glass's EINSTEIN ON THE BEACH, than moves into electronica's new sonic realms. True to pronouncements from the libretto like 'patterns always the same, but never the same,' the music is full of irregular but propulsive motifs. The singers have concise phrases, harmonized or dissonant or overlapping, [with an] intelligible libretto; they allude to the chromaticism of 12-tone music and to the non-Western modes of gamelan music and ragas. Around the vocals are the ricocheting polyrhythms of computerized music, in clear plinks and blips or in tones on the verge of dissolving into buzzes and whooshes. Although some stretches seem almost danceable, Mr. Gordon's patterns never settle into repetition; he's dispensing higher mathematics. Avant-garde opera has struggled to find scenarios that make sense in the context of what current musicians and designers envision. CHAOS finds that connection ...its patterns add up brilliantly.
Jon Pareles, New York Times,1/1/0001
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