p r i s m

January 2019

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About the Show

Rolling World Premiere | Opera-Theatre
January 6-12

Produced by Beth Morrison Projects in association with Trinity Church Wall Street

Locked away in a sterile room, a sickly child, Bibi, and her doting mother, Lumee, are each other’s sole protectors from the unknown. When a mysterious illness lurking outside their door leaves Bibi unable to walk, her youthful curiosity begins to simmer and a seductive external existence can no longer be ignored. Written by Ellen Reid and Roxie Perkins, p r i s m is a haunting, kaleidoscopic new work of opera-theatre that traverses the elasticity of memory after trauma. Composer Ellen Reid’s music erupts with color, using choral and orchestral timbres to deliver an eerily distinct sonic world.

Composed by Ellen Reid
Libretto by Roxie Perkins
Directed by James Darrah
Conducted by Julian Wachner

Assistant Music Direction by Daniela Candillari
Choreography & Assistant Direction by Chris Emile
Scenic Design by Adam Rigg
Costume Design by Molly Irelan
Lighting Design by Pablo Santiago-Brandwein
Sound Design by Garth MacAleavey

Commissioned by Beth Morrison Projects, David & Kiki Gindler, Linda & Stuart Nelson, and Elizabeth & Justus Schlichting, with additional commissioning support from Nancy and Barry Sanders, OPERA America’s Opera Grants for Female Composers, funded by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and The Opera Fund: Repertoire Development; The Francis Goelet Charitable Lead Trust; and National Endowment for the Arts - Art Works.

Developed by Beth Morrison Projects, Lyric Theatre @Illinois, Arizona State University School of Music, Trinity Wall Street, and PROTOTYPE.

Co-presented with La MaMa

MS    MS    MS

Show Run Time 1 hour, 40 minutes
Post-Show Conversation on Jan 10

Photo by Gregory Crewdson, Untitled 2007 – Courtesy Gagosian


Artist Bio

Ellen Reid (Composer) is a composer and sound artist. Her work has been hailed as “ineffably moving” by Mark Swed of the LA Times, “radiant” by Alex Ross of The New Yorker, and it’s been said that her vocal writing would “make you believe that the mythical sirens really existed” (KCRW). Recent projects include dreams of the new world commissioned by Los Angeles Master Chorale, Petrichor commissioned by LACO, HOPSCOTCH with The Industry (dir. Yuval Sharon), and a sound installation for HBO. Upcoming projects include a sound installation for Los Angeles Philharmonic. She splits her time between LA and New York.

Roxie Perkins (Librettist) is a writer and director who works in opera, theatre, and film. Her work has appeared at The Tank NYC, The LARK’s Roundtable Reading Series, Berkeley Repertory School of Theatre, Oberlin College, UCLA's MFA New Play Festival, and HERE as part of Downtown Urban Theater Festival. She was awarded a Sundance Playwright Fellowship, and was a semi-finalist for the Eugene O'Neill National Theatre Conference as well as the Princess Grace Award. Her work has been nominated to The Kilroy's "THE LIST" and We For She’s “WriteHer List,” annual rankings of the best unproduced plays and original TV pilots by women. She directed “Green Umbrella: Theatre of the Outrageous,” a program of three short operas performed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

James Darrah (Director) is a Los Angeles based artist who brings together disparate creators and mediums for community-focused collaborations that pair narrative heft and intimate character studies with abstracted, enigmatic realizations of time and space. He is the artistic director of Opera Omaha’s ONE Festival where this year he directed the premiere production of Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s Proving Up, also being presented at Miller Theater in New York. Darrah directed the world premiere of Mazzoli and Vavrek’s acclaimed opera Breaking the Waves with Opera Philadelphia in 2016 and the PROTOTYPE Festival in 2017. This season he directs a new production of Philip Glass’ Les Enfants Terribles for the Opera Omaha ONE Festival 2019, and creates and directs Ne Quittez Pas, a re-imagined La voix humaine to be staged and then filmed as part of Opera Philadelphia’s O18 Festival. Member of United Scenic Artists, Local 829, and AGMA and represented by Opus 3 Artistsand IMG Artists (Europe). 

Julian Wachner (Music Director) was named one of New York City’s “10 Imagination-Grabbing, Trailblazing Artists of 2014” by WQXR, and continues to enjoy an international profile as conductor, composer and keyboard artist. As Director of Music and the Arts at New York’s historic Trinity Wall Street, Wachner oversees an annual season of hundreds of events, with duties including conducting Trinity’s flagship weekly series, Bach-at-One, canvassing the entire choral-orchestral output of J. S. Bach, and leading Compline-by-Candlelight, Trinity’s innovative fully-improvised variation on an ancient monastic ritual. In addition, Wachner curates the long-standing and cherished series Concerts-at-One, presenting an eclectic program of weekly concerts for Lower Manhattan and beyond through its HD live webcasting. Also at Trinity Wall Street, Wachner serves as the Principal Conductor of NOVUS NY (Trinity’s resident contemporary music orchestra), the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street. In addition to numerous performances of his music throughout North America, this season Wachner has received composition commissions from Vision into Art (Epistle for orchestra and chorus), the Washington Master Chorale (An October Garden), the Rivers School (Composer-in-residence), and from Friends of Madame White Snake for his second full-length opera (REV23).


Artist Statement

p r i s m poses the question: how far will you go to protect the one you love from the world, the truth, and themselves? The opera is told from the point of view of Bibi, an ill girl who lives locked away with her mother, Lumee, in a sterile sanctuary in order to heal Bibi from a mysterious illness that infected her in the outside world. Unable to walk, Bibi's life is completely controlled by her mother- from their daily routines of medicine and cleaning, to the games they play for fun. Despite Bibi's desperate desire to please her mother, day after day whenever she attempts to take her medicine she becomes overwhelmed by the feeling of a monstrous presence awakening outside their door and becomes too afraid to swallow her dose.  Frustrated with Bibi's disobedience, Lumee threatens to take away their games if Bibi continues to refuse to take her medicine.

One night Bibi decides to try to take her medicine on her own yet as soon as she touches the dose she hears a presence both familiar and new awaken outside their door in the form of Chroma, an unseen 12 person chorus.   Chroma begins to drown their sterile sanctuary in colors and sounds, triggering Bibi's long suppressed memories of their life before.  Hypnotized by Chroma’s lush and foreign sounds and colors, Bibi has an out of body experience and finds her hand plunged deep into the can of the medicine- sending waves of pleasure through her body that she's never felt before. This act of rebellion leads to further strain in her and her mothers' fraying relationship- ultimately forcing Bibi to question her mother's narrative of their past and why they live locked away. Drowning in memories and colors new and familiar, Bibi must choose between staying in the familiar confinement of Lumee’s sanctuary or facing the world on her own.  p r i s m explores how far a person will go to feel better- despite the cost.

In p r i s m, music acts as a window into the protagonist’s mind. It vertiginously shifts from non-diegetic to diegetic sound, to sound design, to rich orchestral landscapes. These shifts mirror Bibi’s rapidly evolving understanding of her world and where she fits in it. Music seduces us as Chroma begins to call to Bibi beyond the doors of her sanctuary; music drowns us as we relive the trauma and violence that drove them into seclusion; music disorients us as we are in a new reality that Bibi can barely grasp. Written for soprano and alto soloists, a 14-part amplified chamber ensemble, and a soprano/alto/bass/tenor choir, p r i s m pushes the musical boundaries of opera and forces the orchestra and choir into a central - almost complicit - role in the piece.

- Roxie Perkins, Librettist



Ellen Reid - Photo Credit James Matthew Daniel

Roxie Perkins - Photo Credit Flannery Silva and Jake Eisenmann

James Darrah - Photo Credit Simona Kessler

Julian Wachner - Photo Credit Peter Adamik


La MaMa First Floor Theater

74 East 4th St., New York, NY 10003

Artist’s Praise

"[Ellen Reid's music is] ineffably moving."
The LA Times

"Wildly inventive, leaving little question about what all the fuss over her music is about"
— Mark Swed, The LA Times