Preview: Opera 'RedDust' is a fusion of art forms

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Composer Mathew Rosenblum works in the studio of his Point Breeze home, where he created the multimedia chamber opera "RedDust."
By Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Mathew Rosenblum's multimedia opera "RedDust" is by design a little unfocused. Several stories entwine throughout the piece, and concepts are as integral to it as action.

"There are different texts that intersect or combine in different ways," Rosenblum says. "It is sort of a collage libretto from different sources."

Chief among them are Gertrude Stein, Svetislav Basara ("The Chinese Letter") and Ts'ao Hs?'in ("The Story of the Stone."). That's quite a handful, but Opera Theater's artistic director Jonathan Eaton worked with Rosenblum to craft a master narrative:


Opera Theater, Attack Theatre and Kurt Ralske

Where: The Andy Warhol Museum.

When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 3 p.m. Sunday.

Tickets: $25-$35; 412-394-3353.

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Still reeling from the suicidal death of his lover, a Chinese author, Shi-yin, suffers severe writer's block. Desperate to move forward, he decides he should first try to retell a well-known tale and chooses "The Story of the Stone." Perhaps the greatest masterpiece of Chinese fiction, this 18th-century fairy tale concerns a supernatural stone that comes to Earth in the form of a boy who must seek enlightenment.

The opera shifts to the telling of a portion of "The Story of the Stone" that details how a Fairy of Disenchantment helps the boy experience several Taoist principles, including the need for detachment from the illusory world. That's a lesson the author also needed to learn, and, unexpectedly, this retelling exercise becomes therapeutic for him. He exorcises his own demons and begins to write freely again.

Shi-yin roughly correlates to the author of Basara's "The Chinese Letter," and Stein pops up as a character and also in a wry interview she gave to NBC in 1934. But her influence is felt in the opera's overlapping of fragmented narrative threads.

While this sort of multilayered plot can be confusing, it also can be illuminating. "It puts you in touch with how language works," says composer Eric Moe, a colleague of Rosenblum's at the University of Pittsburgh. "Behind language is the urge to communicate, and much of that is about sounds. When you give people the chance to get in touch with that, it can have surprising results."

"It's the idea of having different traditions within a piece and having them juxtaposed and set out against each other," Rosenblum says.

The opera's performers have a multidimensional makeup, too. The storytellers are many: singers and orchestra from Opera Theater, improvisational video art by Kurt Ralske, dancers from Attack Theatre and surround-sound and computer-generated audio.

"He is using every art for this," says Moe. "It's got everything."

"It's the biggest thing I have done so far and the most collaborative," says Rosenblum.

The project was co-commissioned by New York's Sequitur Ensemble and Miller Theatre, and Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, and supported by the Heinz Creative Heights program, OPERA America's Opera Fund, Meet the Composer's Commissioning USA and The Andy Warhol Museum.


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