As a 19 year-old saxophonist, Wayne Shorter dreamed of writing an opera based on Euripides’ play Iphigenia in Aulis, about a young woman’s sacrifice to enable a nation to wage a war. Her choice to give her life to a patriarchal-militaristic agenda is a cautionary tale of how women have been programmed for millennia to accede to the wishes of men. Whether you recognize the name Iphigenia or not, the tale has repeated itself across time and history.
Now at 86, the 11-time Grammy-winning composer and performer joins forces with Esperanza Spalding—the bassist/composer/vocalist and first jazz musician to win the Grammy Award for Best New Artist—to be the opera’s librettist and lead performer, having previously collaborated on the 2013 symphonic poem, Gaia. Along with architect Frank Gehry as set designer, these three singular artists are creating on a truly unique theatrical vision that seeks to deconstruct this classic text, transposed onto a modern, Black-American family, and disrupt the script of stories about gender, race, and family that we’re told can never change. With a musical ensemble of 13, led by Brian Blade, John Patitucci, and Danilo Perez of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, and a cast of 8 singers including Spalding, wielding musical and dramatic improvisation as a metaphor for agency, rebellion, and freedom, the production by award-winning director Lileana Blain-Cruz pushes forward the boundaries of what an opera can be: audiences will never see the same show twice.
As Spalding says, “Although it’s being created according to the conventions of an opera, it’s infused with improvisation, which makes it quite different. Improvisation – like Iphigenia herself – wakes us up to the fact that we have to go beyond artificial notions of what life has to be like in order to negotiate the unexpected. Iphigenia’s message is that you have the power to choose. You’re engaging, as a cell in the human collective, with an unknown outcome. This message will be reinforced through how the music is co-created in the space. Although there will be pre-designed constructs, the artists will be required to engage anew with the piece at each performance.”
Aiming for a Spring 2021 premiere, current co-commissioners include The Kennedy Center; Cal Performances at UC Berkeley; ArtsEmerson in Boston; and Carolina Performing Arts in Chapel Hill, and there are active discussions with several US and international venues.
To ensure that our impact is thoughtfully planned, we’re collaborating with Brooklyn-based creative studio Peoplmovr, who center anti-racism and equity in their engagement work with major arts institutions, to design a robust program to connect with communities traditionally underrepresented in opera. Our aim is to create a deeply meaningful artistic experience that results in relationships with communities that foster dialogue, empathy, and learning through the vehicle of Iphigenia across the US and abroad.
Composer Wayne Shorter says it best: “We are chance-takers. We negotiate with the unknown and fear nothing. As Iphigenia continues to teach us, there is really no other way to live.”
Librettist and performer Esperanza Spalding takes you on a behind the scenes journey through the early creative development of her new operatic adaptation of “Iphigenia” with composer Wayne Shorter.
Start and End Dates
02/09/2021 — 06/01/2022
Multicity Tour, California