About this Piece
Stranger Love is not practical. Its music dances faster and longer than we believe possible, while also offering great stretches of ethereal serenity. There is no way the musicians can continue, and yet they do. In reaching for the impossible, the work aspires to enhance and expand the imagination. Neither denying the world as it is, nor imprisoned by it, Stranger Love envisions how things could be otherwise — the dream of a world we might hope to inhabit. In the shared experience of these six hours, it seeks to create a window onto the other side of life, where time bends to love like gravity, and where moments of bliss, fear and rapture — the moments in which we’ve felt most alive — sustain us as though they were the colossal pillars that hold up the fabric of the stars.
Stranger Love is deliberately countercultural in scale and tone. As hectic distraction has become a default mode of everyday experience, fragmented into ever-shorter intervals, Stranger Love offers a rare opportunity to dwell within a different temporality, “slow time” in which attention is both dilated and focused. And in response to a public culture pervaded by cynicism, in which antagonism is amplified and enmity propagates, Stranger Love resists despair. It invites the audience to experience, for a brief period, the joy of being together.
Stranger Love moves, over the course of three acts, from what is most particular and individual to what is common and shared. The ballad of Tasha and Andre is unique to them, and yet there is in it some kinship with the story of Daphnis and Chloe, of Nefertiti and Akhenaten, of Verlaine and Rimbaud, of John and Yoko. “It doesn't take much,” says Rick Blaine, “to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” And what are the problems of this world altogether, if seen from Alpha Centauri? Stranger Love bids us to do the impossible, to hold together in our vision the whole and all its parts, to see and hear and feel, “a World in a Grain of Sand and a Heaven in a Wild Flower.” It invites you "to hold Infinity in the palm of your hand, and Eternity in an hour.”
—Dylan Mattingly and Thomas Bartscherer
Scored for a 28-piece orchestra, unfolding on an expansive time-scale across more than six hours, Stranger Love is a grand celebration of being alive in the unfathomable mystery of an ever-expanding universe. Both a love story and the story of love, Stranger Love broadens in scope over the course of three acts as it moves from the experience of individual lives through an archetypal image of the possibilities of human love, and at last to an ecstatic vision of the divine — a love supreme.
In Act I, the story unfolds to the rhythm of the seasons, beginning at a Garden Party attended by Tasha, a fiction writer, and Andre, a theologian. Love at first sight, portents of eternity, a delirious dance—it is the the thrill of the encounter, their first spring. Over a long summer their love unfolds—months that feel like years, hours that feel like instants. In autumn their bond is threatened by the Threat from Without, the lure of ambition and infinite possibility, all the potential lives they foreswear to live one life together. That threat overcome, they renew their commitment, climbing the lighthouse at Point Judith: “Love, let us be true,” they sing in unison. But winter brings a Threat from Within, the cold loneliness of doubt, alienation, abandonment. Almost lost, they slowly find their way back to one another, recovering the past, re-imagining a future together. With this comes their second spring: renewal, repair, ecstatic celebration, the jubilee.
Act II re-frames the narrative in a broader perspective: not the stories of particular individuals over the course of a lifetime, but an archetypal story of human love as it plays out in every cycle of seasons beneath the stars. The action shifts from the singers of Act I to six dancers in three pairs, each pair moving toward one another slowly and inexorably, each meeting a different fate. In the end, an ethereal calm and final farewell to all things human.
Immediately following, Act III ascends and accelerates out into the expanding universe. The frame of human perspective gone entirely, we are now in the space between the stars as the music offers a revelation of velocity and pure joy. Stranger Love ends in ecstasy and pitch black.