ZHAOJÜN – The Woman Who Saved the World (2018)
Opera in one act, for soprano, baritone and 7 instruments (fl, ob; perc (1); pno; vln, vla, vcl). Music and libretto by Alice Shields, in English
To stop environmental destruction, the sex slave Zhaojün steps out of ancient times into the 21st century to confront the Emperor, the modern ruler of the world.
A concert performance of the full opera took place on Nov.20, 2018 at the Baruch Performing Arts Center presented by the Association for the Promotion of New Music, with soprano Sharon Harms as Zhaojün and baritone Jeremy Huw Williams as The Emperor, the musicians of Ensemble Pi conducted by Carl Bettendorf, and stage director Ashley Tata. A stage premiere of the work is now being sought.
The Emperor in Alice Shields' opera
ZHAOJÜN – The Woman Who Saved the World
Duration 2 hours
Opera in two acts, for 5 principal singers, 3-singer ensemble and 14 solo instruments (fl, ob, enghn, bssn; hn, tpt, tbn; hp, pf; vln1, vln2, vla, vcl, db). Music and libretto by Alice Shields, in Middle English or Modern English.
A feminist reconstruction of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. A new Middle English resetting of Geoffrey Chaucer'sTroilus and Criseyde. Known since Medieval times as a treacherous whore, the tragic beauty Criseyde is used by her family as a sexual trophy for political gain. In the intoxicating world of adulterous courtly love, a man secretly devotes himself to the will of his beloved. Criseyde emerges as a romantic heroine, in this dramatic retelling — from a woman's perspective — of Chaucer's famous tale.
On May 11, 2008 the New York City Opera performed 5 scenes from the opera Criseyde in their Vox Festival of Contemporary American Operas at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, NYC, with the New York City Opera singers and orchestra, conducted by David Wroe, with full string sections.
On April 24, 2008 The American Virtuosi performed 5 scenes from Criseyde at the City University of New York Elebash Recital Hall, with singers and 14-piece chamber orchestra conducted by Kenneth Hamrick.
On May 27, 2009 three new scenes from Criseyde were performed in concert at the FEMINIST THEORY AND MUSICOLOGY 10 SYMPOSIUM at the University of North Carolina – Greensboro Recital Hall, Greensboro, North Carolina.
"Female historical figures were also explored on Sunday with Alice Shields' Criseyde, a feminist interpretation of Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde. ...a rare chance to hear Middle English sung. The melodic development and ornamentation of the intense, richly scored work reflect Ms. Shields' lengthy study of classical Indian raga." — THE NEW YORK TIMES
See www.criseyde.com for more information.
Duration 1 hour 13 minutes
Opera in 2 acts for 3 singers, SATB chorus, dancers, electric guitar & fixed audio media. Music, libretto and choreography by Shields, in English, Greek and Irish, based on Greek and Hindu myths. Choreographed by Shields in Bharata Natyam style.
In the plot, a woman seeks spiritual knowledge.
New World Records/CRI CD #647, "Alice Shields' Apocalypse – an Electronic Opera" with Michael Willson, baritone, Alice Shields, mezzo-soprano and Jim Matus, electric guitar
New World/CRI CD #670, "The Composer-Performer Album," with Shields as mezzo-soprano
Background/surround for the opera Apocalypse
"A full-blown electronic opera, based on Indian classical music, and yes, 'heavy metal rock.' The mystic feel of Indian music is all over the disk." — THE SPLATTER EFFECT
"One of the first electronic operas. This sensual / intellectual music requires more than one listening to begin grasping its force, its power of persuasion, and the beauty of its engaging rhythms, colors and textures. Highly recommended." — CONTACT (Montreal)
"A major work, with dramatic and powerful gestures." — CDEMUSIC (Electronic Music Foundation)
"Alice Shields has made a virtual musical / choreographcal / historical melting pot in Apocalypse. She uses different languages, musical techniques, dance movements from Bharata Natyam (Indian dance). All very current — and very serious. Apocalypse is relentless." — AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE
Information about the recording
Listen to an excerpt ("Apocalypse Song")
Listen to an excerpt ("Organ Screaming")
MASS FOR THE DEAD
Duration: 1 hour 5 minutes
Opera in one act for 4 singers, 4 instruments & fixed audio media Music and libretto by Shields, in English, Latin and Greek.
Based on a ghost story and the Gregorian chants of the the Requiem Mass. A group of people who try to release a ghost from his haunting, and perform a mass for him. Choreographed in Bharata Natyam style.
Premiere: American Chamber Opera Company, Douglas Anderson, conductor, Unitarian Universalist Society, Central Park West, NYC, Oct.17 24, 1993.
Grant: Mary Flagler Cary Trust for Music, 1989.
"Mass for the Dead nearly raised them on Sunday night. This electronic ghost story, given its world premiere by the American Chamber Opera Company, blends Gregorian chant, Monteverdi arias, Latin recitation and 20th-century electronic soundscapes into a paganistic barrage. With robed figures whirling across a candlelit altar, the proceedings took on the aspect of a Black Mass. It's a reasonable guess that no spookier piece has been heard in NY this year." — ALEX ROSS, THE NEW YORK TIMES
"...so luxuriant yet eerily supernatural, it convulsed the senses. A startling extension of the consciousness of India, in an equally startling Western opera of the seen and unseen." — SRUTI, "India's Premier Music and Dance Magazine"
Gallery of production photos
Listen to an excerpt ("Agnus Dei")
Opera in one act for mezzo-soprano and fixed audio media. Music, libretto and choreography by Shields
On a traditional Sanskrit hymn to the god Shiva ("Nateeshkauttwam"). Traditional Bharata Natyam choreography adapted by Shields.
Premiere: Akademie der Künste, Berlin, Germany, sung by Shields, June 5, 1993
Opera in one act for baritone, soprano, mezzo-soprano, cello & piano. Music and libretto by Shields
A black comedy in which the god Odin manages to sacrifice himself. In modern English, based on the Old English poems The Wanderer and The Seafarer, a few lines of which are included in the opera in the original Old English.
Premiere: The Golden Fleece – Composers Chamber Theater, Greenwich House, NYC, directed by Lou Rodgers, June 27 - 29, 1989.
"Wraecca, by Alice Shields, is a 15-minute allegorical overview of the mysteries of life and death, inspired by two Anglo-Saxon poems, 'The Wanderer' and 'The Seafarer.' Ms. Shields' music here is neo-medieval, full of winding, melismatic melodies and parallel fourths in the cello and piano accompaniment. Richard Cassell sang the title role in a dry dispassionate way that suited the bleak Expressionistic staging." — ALLAN KOZIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Sprinklings of Anglo-Saxon and an allegorical plot conflating material from two Anglo-Saxon poems were the attention-demanders of Alice Shields' Wraecca, the most compelling of the four pieces." — CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY OPERA
Opera in one act for soprano, mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass, SATB chorus, 4 instruments & fixed audio media. Music by Shields. Libretto in English by Edward Barrett and Shields, based on Native American shamanic rituals. Fixed audio part created by Shields from wolf-calls, coyote screams and manipulated human voices.
Premiere: American Chamber Opera Company, Tomi Theater, West 72nd Street, NYC. Conductor: Douglas Anderson, Director and designer: Roger Sullivan, May 8-16, 1987.
CRI SD # 495, Coyote Scene:
Opus One #90. El's Aria
National Endowment for the Arts grants for the creation of Shaman: 1975 and 1977.
"...eerily evocative, transporting one to an other-worldly place where spiritualism and magic are interwoven. From the opening darkness to shrieks to distant cries in the wilderness, it holds the listener spellbound. Shields exudes integrity, originality, and courage." — JOAN LA BARBARA, MUSICAL AMERICA
"well organized, and eerily effective." — THE NEW YORK TIMES
"Alice Shields's 'El's Aria' is based on American mythology, taken from a Navajo text. A harrowing work for soprano, it is vividly sung." — FANFARE
ODYSSEY 3 (1975)
Opera in one act for tenor, bass-baritone, male chorus & 21-piece chamber orchestra (pic, ob, eh/alto krumhorn, bn; hn, tbn, tba; man, hp; vln, vla, vcl, db;perc (8)). Music, libretto and choreography by Shields
Choreographed in Noh theater dance style. Drama by Shields, based on the Homeric Odyssey: Odysseus meets his son Telemachos without recognizing him, and tricks him.
Opera in one act for tenor, bass-baritone, male chorus, piano and percussion (1) Music, libretto and choreography by Shields.
A surrealistic drama in which two men aggress against each other. Choreographed by Shields in Noh theater style, with drama by Shields based on Roger Gilbert-LeConte's Dada play "The Odyssey of Ulysses the Palmiped."
Public dress rehearsal with audience, Lake George Opera Festival, Glens Falls NY, August 28, 1970. Conductor: Alice Shields; director: Michael Hassett; production design: Nil Mikulewicz; lighting design: Arden Fingerhut.
"imaginative and exploratory in its contrasts of comedy and tragedy. The black and white confrontation held disturbing connotations, and there was a horrifying power in the defilement of the paper woman. Miss Shields uses projected images with good effect, and unifies her work by involving the conductor and instrumental ensemble on stage with the principal singers and chorus." — GLEN FALLS TIMES
THE ODYSSEY OF ULYSSES THE PALMIPED (Odyssey 1)
Opera in one act for tenor, bass-baritone, male chorus, piccolo, french horn and percussion (1) Music, libretto and choreography by Shields
A surrealistic opera in which two men agress against each other. Choreographed by Shields in Noh theater style, with drama by Shields based on the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Gilbert-LeConte's "The Odyssey of Ulysses the Palmiped."
Electronic Cues to Marvin Levy's opera "Mourning Becomes Electra"
Operatic incidental music on fixed audio media.
Composed assisting Vladimir Ussachevsky for the 1967 Metropolitan Opera premiere of Marvin Levy's opera Mourning Becomes Electra, using Shields' electronically-manipulated singing voice on tape.
Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, conducted by Zubin Mehta, with singers Evelyn Lear and John Reardon, Dec. 9-28, 1967.
JACK DUNNE'S REVENGE
Opera in 1 act for 2 singers & 4 instruments Music and libretto by Shields, conflating the death-obsesssed poems of John Donne with coarse phrases in Middle English from medieval dramas.
An over-intellectualizing man enrages a woman hungry for sex. Choreographed in Noh theater dance style.
Orchestral reading with singers and instruments, conducted by Shields. Lake George Opera Festival, Glens Falls, NY, August, 1966
Electronic Cues for Robert Ward's opera "The Crucible"
Operatic incidental music on fixed audio media.
Composed assisting Vladimir Ussachevsky for the performances of Robert Ward's opera The Crucible, using Shields' electronically-manipulated singing voice on tape.
Premiere: Lake George Opera Festival, Glens Falls, NY, 1966.