Oberlin's Annual Winter Term Opera Transforms Philip Glass' Liquid Days

January 17, 2017

Erich Burnett

Songs From Liquid Days graphic

PLEASE NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that no tickets remain for the four performances of Songs from Liquid Days scheduled in Oberlin January 27 and 28. Tickets are available for the January 29 performance at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

In the mid-1980s, composer Philip Glass developed a song cycle around original lyrics penned by a handful of popular musicians he admired. The project began with Talking Heads frontman David Byrne, then grew to include Paul Simon, Suzanne Vega, and Laurie Anderson. It ultimately became Glass' most popular and successful recording.

Three decades later, Oberlin Opera Theater Director Jonathon Field has reenvisioned Glass’ classical-pop cycle, called Songs from Liquid Days, as a narrative tale that chronicles a man’s efforts to understand his own death as he experiences a series of “purgatories.”

For Field, the story emerged when he reordered the songs in Glass’ original cycle. The multimedia creation that has resulted—complete with a minimalist set and costuming, dramatic action, projected images, and live music that connects Western art music with rock music of the mid-1980s—will be brought to the stage of Warner Concert Hall for four “artist concept” performances at 4 and 8 p.m. Friday, January 27, and Saturday, January 28. Tickets for these limited-capacity shows are sold out.

On Sunday, January 29, Songs from Liquid Days will be presented at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum (1100 E. 9th St., Cleveland) as part of Cleveland Opera Theater’s New Opera Works Festival. The 5 p.m. performance will be preceded by an educational exhibit and discussion about the fusion of rock and classical music, what is perceived as high and low art, and how Glass' piece is connected to the many Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees who were involved in the creation and performance of Songs from Liquid Days. The exhibit and discussion begins at 3:30 p.m. and is open to all.

All performances are free. Reservations for the Rock Hall performance are available at clevelandoperatheater.tix.com. Special $50 VIP admission is also available for the Rock Hall performance, which includes valet parking, reserved seating for the pre-show exhibit and performance, and a drink prior to the show and at a post-show reception. VIP tickets are available at clevelandoperatheater.tix.com.

Working hand-in-hand with music director Daniel Michalak, a vocal coach and accompanist at Oberlin, Field envisions the dramatic action of Liquid Days as a sort of mash-up of Dante’s Divine Comedy and The Tibetan Book of the Dead. “What drew me to the piece was the combination of its unique words and sound,” he says. “It has a kind of depth and mystery. I have always liked the minimalists. I think part of it is the pulse, part is the idea of constructing music through loops, and part of it is the ‘shimmer’ that the music has.”

The production arrives as Glass celebrates his 80th birthday on January 31. It marks the second collaboration between Oberlin and Cleveland Opera Theater: In January and February 2016, Field directed the critically hailed Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed that Line to Freedom, an original opera written by Nkeiru Okoye ’92. Most of that show’s run took place in churches across northeast Ohio.

“I have been trying to rework the opera experience ever since the ’80s,” says Field, who has been commended for his unconventional approaches to conventional and not so conventional repertoire. “The Rock Hall has a kind of wow factor that I think helps expand the idea of what opera can be.”

For more information, please visit the Oberlin Conservatory website or clevelandoperatheater.org.

You may also like…