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FULL Afterword, an opera (George Lewis) Chicago IL 2015 Lamarre Terrell Otis Brown

Video Recording from: YouTube     FULL VIDEO     
Information on the Performance
Information about the Recording
  • Published by: International Contemporary Ensemble  
  • Date Published: 2021  
  • Format: Streaming
  • Quality Video: 4 Audio:4
  • Subtitles: nosubs  
  • Video Recording from: YouTube     FULL VIDEO
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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ON THIS PERFORMANCE

George Lewis refers to Afterword as a “Bildungsoper,” a term derived from the “Bildungsroman”—a coming-of-age novel. Lewis’s choice of terms here is especially significant, since the bildungsroman has traditionally been associated with white European values. In the bildungsroman, as discussed by Jennifer Heinert (2009), a young hero is confronted with a series of obstacles that, once overcome, lead him—the protagonist is usually male—to embrace the values of the dominant (i.e. white European) culture. Instead, Lewis presents a revision of the traditional bildungsroman—a revision that critically engages the genre’s values, assumptions, and conventional narrative techniques. In Afterword, the development of the community is just as important as that of the individual. Like the bildungsromans of Toni Morrison (e.g., The Bluest Eye), Lewis eschews the linear and teleological trajectory of the traditional bildungsroman in favor of the juxtaposition of multiple narratives and historical moments. In doing so, Afterword offers listeners a positive model of development that does not reduce African Americans and women to the role of the other.

Particularly important for understanding Afterword is its dramaturgy of the avatar. An avatar is a virtual image that stands in for a person on the internet or in a game. The dramaturgy of the avatar refers to a type of theater in which the characters on the stage are both human beings and virtual selves. Accordingly, Afterword refrains from depicting actual historical figures in the AACM and instead employs the opera’s characters as proxies for the AACM as an organization. As Uri McMillan (2015) writes about black feminist art and performance, the avatar blurs the boundary between subject and object, allowing black female artists to perform objecthood in a way that extends agency and overcomes everyday limitations.

This aspect of the avatar is evident in Afterword’s emphasis on the body as a site of meaning that extends beyond the confines of the verbal language of the libretto. More specifically, in Sean Griffin’s remarkable staging, the singers also appear as movers, performing a sophisticated gestural language in counterpoint to the verbal text. McMillan also alludes to the “polytemporal” nature of the avatar—that is, it permits performers to transcend linear time and to perform the past in the present. One finds this practice in Lewis’s libretto and its interweaving of testimonials and transcripts removed in time. Afterword does not depict the AACM’s history in a sequential fashion, but rather as a series of historical episodes.

Finally, the concept of the avatar enables us to rethink the relationship of the media involved in opera. Just as the avatar blurs distinctions between the real and virtual worlds, opera similarly transcends the boundaries of its constituent media. As Lewis states: “Sung and spoken voices, instrumental music, and movement become heteroglossic avatars, in a process described by Toni Morrison and others as the expression of a community voice.” Ultimately, in expressing the community voice, Afterword contributes to what Guthrie Ramsey (2012) refers to as the outstanding task of “denaturaliz[ing] some of the conventions that have governed blackness’s presence in opera.”

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