MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Serving up the music of memes

Lacrimae Rerum


Yet however much we may like
The stoic manner in which
The classical authors wrote,
Only the young and the rich
Have the nerve or the figure to strike
The lacrimae rerum note.

–from A Walk After Dark, W.H. Auden

Filed under: classical art, photography, poetry


Mohammed Fairouz; photo by Samantha West

Mohammed Fairouz; photo by Samantha West

A notable premiere by composer Mohammed Fairouz is being given tonight by the Indianapolis Symphony: Zabur, to a libretto by Najla Said.

From Scott Shoger’s interview with the composer about this contemporary war requiem:


Zabur is the most persistently and overwhelmingly dark pieces that I’ve ever written, although it doesn’t end in that darkness. It ends in a wonderful image of children in the sunlight like the end of Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. Sometimes as an artist, part of the job description is to go into psychological and emotional places that the rest of the world would avoid.


Zabur begins with a great outcry and destruction that proves to be a flash-forward or premonition of what will happen — that everyone in the shelter will be destroyed. I was debating with myself how to end the piece, but I decided to bring back the children’s choir to sing, “The children of your servants will live on forever.” It’s an absolutely heartbreaking ending, but with the sound of the children, you have this group of 100-some children in Indianapolis connecting artistically, in some way, to their brothers and sisters half a world away in Syria who are suffering. There’s something very moving about that.

Filed under: American music, new music

Hercules vs. Vampires: Opera Goes to the Movies

Thomas May:

This starts tonight at LA Opera.

Originally posted on MEMETERIA by Thomas May:


Los Angeles Opera truly has become a company interested in innovation. Next month brings Hercules vs. Vampires, an opera-meets-cult film mashup between Mario Bava’s 1961 film (Hercules in the Haunted World) and LA-based composer Patrick Morganelli.

Here’s my interview with Mr. Morganelli:

A century ago, the budding film industry borrowed pretty heavily from opera—which makes a lot of sense, considering how the larger-than-life gestures of operatic acting suited the new medium of silent film so effectively.

And film has been repaying the favor in recent years: Jake Heggie’s Dead Man Walking, Kevin Puts’ Silent Night, Howard Shore’s The Fly, André Previn’s Brief Encounter, even a new opera by Giorgio Battistelli inspired by the controversial Al Gore documentary An Inconvenient Truth, set to premiere in May at La Scala.

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Filed under: Uncategorized

Happy Earth Day

Since I’ve been on a Haydn kick, my thoughts turn musically to the two great oratorios from the end of his career: The Creation and The Seasons.

Filed under: Haydn

Kudos to Julia Wolfe

Heartiest congratulations to Julia Wolfe for being awarded the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

From the citation:

Awarded to “Anthracite Fields,” by Julia Wolfe, premiered on April 26, 2014, in Philadelphia by the Bang on a Can All-Stars and the Mendelssohn Club Chorus, a powerful oratorio for chorus and sextet evoking Pennsylvania coal-mining life around the turn of the 20th Century (Red Poppy Music/G. Schirmer, Inc.).

Drawing inspiration from folk, classical, and rock genres, Julia Wolfe’s music brings a modern sensibility to each while simultaneously tearing down the walls between them.

Her music is distinguished by an intense physicality and a relentless power that pushes performers to extremes and demands attention from the audience. In the words of the Wall Street Journal, Wolfe has “long inhabited a terrain of [her] own, a place where classical forms are recharged by the repetitive patterns of minimalism and the driving energy of rock.”

The wonderful Los Angeles Master Chorale and its artistic director Grant Gershon had already scheduled the West Coast premiere of Anthracite Fields for their new season.

I’m thrilled for Julia: congratulations!

Filed under: American music, awards

Finding the Key: Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See

Thomas May:

Congratulations to Anthony Doerr for a well-deserved Pulitzer 2015 win.

Originally posted on MEMETERIA by Thomas May:

“What do we call visible light? We call it color. But… really, children, mathematically, all of light is invisible,” is the lesson that beams in on the short-wave radio. The hyper-curious, gifted, white-haired German orphan Werner Pfennig and his sensitive sister Jutta listen in, escaping through the invisible waves for a moment from the coal-mining town of Zollverein.

This is just one of many memorably etched moments in Anthony Doerr’s new novel, All the Light We Cannot See. I became a fan of Doerr’s writing last year when his short story collection Memory Wall fell into my hands. Doerr possesses the rare gift of a distinctive style that avoids mannerism and that endows his characters — well, most of them — with depth and compassionate believability.

The beauty of Doerr’s fiction is both stylistic and structural. His lyrical, keenly observed prose in All the Light We Cannot See supports…

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Filed under: Uncategorized

In a Berlioz Mood

Great way to start the week – one of my favorite takes on opera’s “storm” meme:

Filed under: Berlioz

Earth Day 2015


For the upcoming 45th anniversary of Earth Day.

We’ve become a culture that’s so fragmented that we’ve kind of forgotten how we fit into the world in which we live. I understand music as a way to reconnect, and to reintegrate our awareness, our listening, ourselves with the larger, older world that we inhabit.

–John Luther Adams, from an interview in The List

Filed under: environment, John Luther Adams, photography

Time for Tenn


Suddenly what seems like a flood of Tennessee Williams-related material has been vying for my attention. First is the long-delayed but always expected new John Lahr biography, Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh, which I’ve been devouring and don’t want to end. (It won last year’s National Book Critics Circle Award.)

An undated early horror story, “”The Eye That Saw Death,” was recently unearthed from the Williams Archives at the University of Texas at Austin and published in the spring issue of The Strand Magazine.

In March came news that Francesca Williams, the playwright’s niece (daughter of little brother Dakin), discovered a forgotten treasure of memorabilia in her parents’ Missouri basement, with letters going back to the 1920s.

James Grissom’s Follies of God — another project long in the making, and attended by some controversy (it’s Tenn Williams, after all) — has finally been published. From the excerpt Longreads has published of Grissom’s new book:

Tenn believed that writers, all artists, had several homes. There was the biological place of birth; the home in which one grew up, bore witness, fell apart. There was also the place where the “epiphanies” began—a school, a church, perhaps a bed. Rockets were launched and an identity began to be set.

There was the physical location where a writer sat each day and scribbled and hunted and pecked and dreamed and drank and cursed his way into a story or a play or a novel. Most importantly, however, there was the emotional, invisible, self-invented place where work began—what Tenn called his “mental theater,” a cerebral proscenium stage upon which his characters walked and stumbled and remained locked forever in his memory, ready, he felt, to be called into action and help him again.

And for National Poetry Month, here’s a podcast from the Poetry Foundation including Tennessee Williams reading his own poetry.

Filed under: American literature, Tennessee Williams, theater

Another View of Semele

The Birth of Bacchus, Giulio Pippi and Workshop

The Birth of Bacchus, Giulio Pippi and Workshop

For another angle on the Semele myth treated by Handel, here’s a painting by Giulio Pippi (called Giulio Romano) and Workshop (before 1499-1546), from the Getty Museum. The painting depicts the happy outcome of poor Semele’s demise. From the Getty’s description:

Originally part of a series of mythological love stories, this panel is a comment on passion’s perils. Semele, a mortal impregnated by Jupiter (Roman king of the gods), is consumed by fire after the god’s jealous wife, Juno (queen of the gods), tricks her into looking directly at him despite his warnings. Below is the newborn Bacchus (god of wine), Semele’s son by Jupiter. As the hapless father flees clutching his thunderbolts, Juno looks on apprehensively.

Filed under: Handel, painting, photography

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