‘Occupy Opera’ spurned by Latvian conductor as socialist nostalgia to play on Wall Street

Eugene Birman and Scott Diel. (Kaupo Kikkas)
9/23/2016 3:13 PM
Category: Culture

Eugene Birman’s opera “State of the Union”, referred to by some as the “Occupy Opera,” was canceled in the eleventh hour by a Latvian conductor for its supposed anti-capitalist sentiment. It will now play on Wall Street on Oct. 6.

“State of the Union,” an opera about inequality and obliviousness, was slated for a European premiere in Latvia in March, but Latvian Radio Choir conductor Kaspars Putniņš withdrew his agreement to perform the work seven weeks before the premiere.

“The main reason is the message itself,” wrote Putniņš to composer Eugene Birman, himself of Latvian and Soviet origin, in explanation of his decision to cancel, “…and I perfectly understand the skepticism of the young generation about what is happening in the world. At the same time the people in my part of the world have never had a better life than today. I am an ex-Soviet soldier. I am truly thankful for the life that I can have now in comparison to 30 years ago, and I am sick of leftist nostalgia.”

“I never understood Putniņš’s decision,” says Birman. “I had a Latvian conductor telling me the piece wasn’t pro-capitalist enough?”

“State of the Union” will now see its premiere in the United States, in Marquette, Michigan, with a final performance on Oct. 6 in New York – at Trinity Church on Wall Street, just across the grounds where the Occupy Wall Street movement took visible root.

Birman and librettist Scott Diel are the team behind what the media called the world’s first financial opera, “Nostra Culpa.”

“State of the Union” is an opera for 12 singers which considers environmental sustainability, economic inequality, and the general obliviousness of society.

The 40-minute work will be premiered by the Helsinki Chamber Choir, which composer Jonathan Harvey has termed “probably the best choir anywhere in the world, particularly for contemporary music.”

Part opera seria, part satire, “State of the Union” condemns no one and everyone, yet still doles out redemption in a thrilling finale for all those willing to momentarily exit the comfort of their consumer shells.

The Koch brothers, Dick Cheney, Russell Brand’s Revolution, hedge fund tycoons, the middle class, the social safety net, and those who depend on it: no one comes out unscathed.

The work has been brought to life thanks to generous support from the Rabbit Island Foundation, Northern Michigan University’s Northern Nights concert series, DeVos Art Museum, and the U. P. Beaumier Heritage Center.

The work was conceived and composed on Michigan’s Rabbit Island, 91 acres of solid bedrock that has never been developed, has no electricity or modern comforts, and is accessible only by small craft. Birman and Diel created the opera over a period of two weeks of seclusion on the island.

“State of the Union” is the fourth work by Birman and Diel. Their first, “Nostra Culpa,” which dramatized the austerity-stimulus Twitter feud between economist Paul Krugman and Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, was quickly labeled the “Twitter opera” by the international press, and it was featured by CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, was the subject of a BBC documentary by Tanya Beckett, as well as covered in most every international newspaper.

Birman/Diel followed up with “No. 289,” an opera about the Russian border treaty of 1920 (Treaty of Tartu), and a reworking of Erlkönig, both music and libretto, for the Oxford Lieder Festival.

Composer Eugene Birman is based in Oakland, CA and London. Scott Diel lives and works in Estonia.

Performance schedule in the U.S.:

Sept. 29, 2016 7:30 p.m. – Forest Roberts Theatre, Northern Michigan University campus, Marquette, Michigan.

Sept. 30, 2016 7:30 p.m. – Forest Roberts Theatre, Northern Michigan University campus, Marquette, Michigan.

Oct. 1, 2016 7:30 p.m. – Interlochen Center for the Arts, Interlochen, Michigan

Oct. 2, 2016 7:30 p.m. – Rozsa Center, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Michigan

Oct. 4, 2016 7:30 p.m. – Arts Center, Lake Superior State University, Sault Ste Marie, MI

Oct. 6, 2016 6:00 p.m. – Trinity Church, Wall Street, New York City

Editor: Dario Cavegn

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