Two Oars

Two Oars is a new work based on Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea by Robert Wilson and Paola Prestini. This opera is intended to open the Commonwealth Games in April 2018 in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, by suggestion of Lyndon Terracini from Opera Australia. The venue will be a beach called Coolangatta where Opera Australia has already been performing such operas as The Magic Flute in co-production with the Bleach Festival of the city of Gold Coast. VisionIntoArt (VIA) serves as producer of the work that is to be performed with orchestra and chorus.

During the table workshop at Watermill from August 10 through 14 2015, a draft was made of the shape, structure and cast of the work. The opera will be approximately 90 minutes long and consist of 7 parts (music) with spoken knee-plays (no music) before and in between (total of 8). All characters are related to the Old man, reflecting different aspects of him. There will be a mezzo soprano and baritone and three or four more singers for the principal roles. Apart from the singers, a dancer will be included in the cast as well as one or two narrator figures. A full chorus of some 40-60 singers (at times just the men choir would perform, at other times the full chorus) will be placed behind the audience, then move towards the stage, even walking through the water. The work will be multi-lingual with English and Spanish as main languages and the local dialect of the descendants of the African slaves on Cuba (Lucumí, a dialect of Yorùbá) as a third.

The stage will be placed facing the sea with the ocean as the main element of the “set” to be seen through the open frame of the proscenium. In front of the proscenium, there will be a platform for the narrator(s) traveling from left to right during the whole time span of the performance. There will be a circular gangway stretching out into the sea behind the stage.

The Old Man and the Sea is the last major work of Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) earning him the Pulitzer Price in the year of its publication (1952) and contributing to the decision of the Nobel Prize committee to honor the US-American author with the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1954. The novel is situated in Cuba and tells the story of an old fisherman who has lost the respect of his fellow-villagers after not having caught any fish for nearly three months. A boy that used to go fishing with him was forced to abandon him. One day, he goes out far from the shore and catches a giant Marlin. After a three-day-long fight he kills the fish. However, until he can bring it home, the fish is eaten up by sharks the old man cannot defeat. He reaches the harbor with only the skeleton of the Marlin left. But the other fishermen are so much impressed by its size that he regains dignity despite his defeat. In addition to visual references and inspirational images, a number of suggestions have been collected for the text of the 8 knee-plays including passages from Ezra Pound’s The Cantos, a letter of Hemingway’s to Marlene Dietrich, Nautical terms, Baseball statistics of the 1950s and a quote from Stephen Crane’s novel The Open Boat (which could also be sung as a chorus chant) as well as prayers like the Our Father or the Hail Mary in Lucumí. A draft of the structure has been put together as a basis to continue on.

A new collaboration-in-progress between Robert Wilson and Paola Prestini

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Release Date: May 24, 2017