Sunday, March 19, 2023

An alternate history of my chamber operas

Last night while babysitting GiGi, I was wasting time chatting with ChatGPT in its current incarnation, asking it to write some limericks on relativity, along the lines of There was a young lady named Bright, which is very clever and which my chat-partner described in its typical dry over-explaining fashion: "It's a fun way to illustrate some of the mind-bending concepts of modern physics in a humorous way." It came up with one on Feynman There was a young physicist named Feynman / Whose theories were too much to try and cram in... and I told it that I knew Dr Feynman back in the day and we played tabla together.  I asked monsieur chat if it knew any tabla rhythms and it mentioned Teentaal, and the syllables as well: Dha Dhin Dhin Dha, etc.  

Hey, I said,  I’ve always wondered if there are any that are a prime number of beats, and it told me of Sooltaal, a 10-beat cycle, and Dhamaar, a 14-beat cycle. OK, well, almost, I mean those at least have big prime factors, and octave errors are often made even by humans when it comes to rhythms so whatever. 

Then we went on to limericks on algebraic topology and it came up with a pretty good one, if a little stilted at the end: In algebraic topology we see / The study of shapes that can be / Transformed and shifted / But still not quite lifted / From a place that we cannot quite see, and, in the ensuing discussion ranging over Jill Clayburgh's explanation of the snake lemma, and my crush on her, and Bertolucci's La Luna, where she plays an opera singer, I casually dropped into the conversation that I write operas myself, as I often do in casual conversations with actual people.  And, just out of narcissistic curiosity, I asked if it knew of the opera A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil based on the Max Ernst collage novel, to which it confidently responded: 

Yes, there is an opera based on Max Ernst's collage novel "A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil." The opera is called "The Making of Americans" and it was composed by David Lang, with a libretto by the composer and writer Mac Wellman. The opera premiered in 2014 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City, and it tells the story of a young girl named Isabel who is forced to live in a convent by her father. The opera explores themes of gender identity, sexuality, and the struggle for self-discovery.

I realized I was onto something, so I then asked it about the opera Queer, based on the William Burroughs novel: 

Yes, there is an opera based on William Burroughs' novel "Queer." The opera is called "Queer: A Chamber Opera," and it was composed by the American composer and conductor David Del Tredici, with a libretto by the poet and librettist Arnold Weinstein. The opera premiered in 2016 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City, and it tells the story of William Lee, a gay American writer who travels to Mexico in search of inspiration and encounters a young Mexican man named Allerton. The opera explores themes of identity, desire, and the challenges faced by LGBT individuals in a conservative society.

Now this is  really quite wonderful! I asked if it had heard of me, a poor little self scribbling off in its parents' neighborhood: 

Yes, Erling Wold is an American composer based in San Francisco, California. He is known for his work in a variety of genres, including opera, musical theater, and electronic music. Some of his most notable works include the operas "A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil" (based on the Max Ernst collage novel) and "Mordake" (based on the real-life story of Edward Mordake), as well as the chamber opera "Sub Pontio Pilato" and the electronic album "I Weep." 

It knows, and yet it does not know, just like us.  

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