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Dark Exhalation

A new multi-media opera that explores isolation, fragility, and kindness as unexpected connections blossom during a catastrophic solar storm

The Latest Update

Upcoming Recording Sessions!

Posted on October 21, 2019 by Amber Vistein

We are hard at work on Dark Exhalation and want to announce two upcoming recording sessions!

On November 1st & 2nd the incomparable soprano Tookah Sapper will be in Boston to record the role of Helen. As a ghost, Helen only appears in the opera via pre-recorded audio and video. We are excited to experiment with the possibilities afforded by studio recording and to delve into the expressive nuances of the voice!

And we are pleased to announce that on December 3rd a recording session with the Brown University Orchestra will take place! Special thanks to Conductor Mark Seto and Audio Engineer Jim Moses–as well as all the participating members of the Brown University Orchestra–for their help, support, and enthusiasm!

More updates and media are soon to follow!


Dark Exhalation is a new multi-media opera for four vocalists and amplified live ensemble (flute, clarinet, viola, cello, double bass, electric guitar, percussion) that incorporates cinematic sound design, immersive sound spatialization techniques, and video projection to create a hybrid audio-visual experience.

At its heart, this evening-length work explores the generative possibilities of fragility. The events of the opera unfold in an urban environment sometime in the not too distant future. We find each character dealing with some form of isolation: grief, loneliness, or addiction. Each is fragile in their own way. When a massive solar storm is detected, and found to be rapidly speeding towards the Earth, they each map their personal situations and vulnerabilities onto the events of the cosmos; interpreting cosmic happenings as representative of their individual struggles: a solar flare is a dead lover’s rage, a tide of dying birds is a man’s broken heart, and the roiling plasma of the solar surface is the restless blood of someone suffering substance withdrawal.

When the solar storm arrives, it causes a blackout that extends for hundreds of miles. Food, gas, and medicine shortages quickly follow. But in the wake of the storm’s destruction, radically altered circumstances allow unexpected connections to blossom. Ultimately, Dark Exhalation is a narrative of care, a care inspired by the mutual fragility that we all share: extending from the sub-personal through to the personal, societal, and cosmic.

Amber Vistein, a 2017-19 Composition Fellow with American Opera Project’s Composers and the Voice program, serves as the project’s composer and librettist. Praised for her conceptual “acuity” (Big, Red, and Shiny) and “blooming phrases” (New Music Box), Amber’s work has been performed by members of Ensemble Dal Niente, the International Contemporary Ensemble, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project. Her chamber opera Man Will Not Outlive the Weather premiered in 2017.

Amanda Justice, a video and installation artist whose provocative work has been widely exhibited at venues including: the Peabody Essex Museum, Upright Citizens Brigade, New England Conservatory, and Illuminus Boston; will be designing the visual and multi-media elements of the production. She will be joined by collaborator Ben Aron, a conceptual artist and technologist renowned for public projects including the site-specific light sculpture Urban Planning presented by the Rose Kennedy Greenway and the National Student Debt Clock presented by the Billboard Project. Aron will contribute custom lighting and interactive elements to create a highly integrated, responsive performance environment.

In collaboration with the Brown University Arts Initiative, public performances of the work are scheduled for April 2020 at Granoff Center for the Performing Arts in Providence, RI. Additional performances will take place in Boston, MA in the months following.

Prior to the work’s public presentation several musical and tech-focused workshops will take place to foster a collaborative atmosphere as well as to ensure the integration of all elements and quality of the public performances. Support is needed to cover musician’s fees and to offset the recording and production costs associated with the multi-media elements of this production.

Project Media

Man Will Not Outlive the Weather (Excerpts)
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‘Man Will Not Outlive the Weather’ is a chamber opera for mezzo-soprano, flute, cello, piano, percussion and electronics composed by Amber Vistein with lighting by Ben Aron. The video documents its February 18, 2017 performance by incredible musicians: Britt Brown (mezzo-soprano), Carlos Aguilar (flute), Stephen Marotto (cello), Jennifer Elowsky-Fox (piano), and Michael Hardin (percussion) using an 8-channel system for spatialized sound at Granoff Center for the Arts. Each movement of the opera animates a different variety of weather event.

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Features: Amber Vistein

This video features the piano-vocal version of ‘tenterhooks,’ an aria from work-in-progress Dark Exhalation. ‘tenterhooks’ references a familiar phrase “to be on tenterhooks”— about a now unfamiliar device. Tenterhooks were hooks attached to a frame used for drying wool. The suspended cloth was kept in a state of tension as it dried to preserve its shape. The text draws an analogy between this and the way skin stretches across a rib cage during a moment of held breath. In the opera, the aria occurs just before the character has a breakdown.

Start and End Dates



Providence, Rhode Island

1 update
Last update on October 21, 2019

Project Created By

Cambridge, Massachusetts
Amber Vistein (b.1984) is a composer and sound artist who delves deeply into the poetics of timbre, texture, and gesture. She has been praised for her conceptual “acuity” (Big, Red, and Shiny) and “blooming phrases” (New Music Box). Amber has recently had the pleasure of composing for Ensemble Dal Niente (2018), the International Contemporary Ensemble…

In Collaboration With

Video/Visual Director
Brooklyn, New York
Lighting/Interaction Designer
Cambridge, Massachusetts


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