Artist Statements: Stranger Love
About this Piece
Dylan Mattingly: Artist Statement
When I was six years old, I knew I wanted to be a composer. I fell in love with the magic of altering time and experience, of forming worlds from nothing, and from that moment I spent my life on a singular path, trying to build a life which I could spend doing what I loved. But eleven years ago, I realized there were things I wanted to create — wild, massive dreams, the sort of life-altering artistic experiences that were my favorite things in the universe — which no amount of success on that path I had imagined one took to have a career as a composer could ever offer me the chance to pursue.
I dreamed of this piece, Stranger Love — an ecstatic, impossible celebration of being alive that lasts forever and ends in the stars — an imagination that was beyond impractical, six hours of music complete with three re-tuned pianos, a technicolor experience that transforms from opera to ballet to light show, with taco trucks waiting outside for dinner halfway through.
There was no path for creating Stranger Love. And yet I knew with a strange certainty that it was the best thing I could offer to the world, the most meaningful way I could distill my time on this planet into something to share with others. So eleven years ago, I stepped into a vast wilderness, beginning work on Stranger Love — a journey which would take over a third of my days on earth — without the faintest idea how it could ever exist, turning my life fully and inexorably towards this single beautiful dream.
Across that decade, Stranger Love has been the gravitational force acting upon my every minute — a voyage both unimaginably joyous and unimaginably difficult, immersing me in a unique happiness, creating what I know to be the best thing of which I’m capable, and an inundating anxiety, grown to a roar the closer I’ve come, in being able to see what it would feel like if I were never able to share this. But in a strange, miraculous accumulation of often small moments of the open-heartedness of others towards this idealistic pursuit, Stranger Love has found a winding trail, visible only when I turn back and look, and somehow we’re all here together at last to share in these tiny beautiful six hours, the best thing I could ever imagine.
Meet you at the taco trucks after Act I?
Thomas Bartscherer: Artist Statement
Stranger Love arrived as a gift. Before words or music, there was a form, something seen with the eye of the soul in a moment of illumination, the lightning flash that precedes the thunder. The actual work of making the piece has often felt like finding something that was already there, or like recollecting something that was to come.
The creative rhythm has been call and response, music and words composed in response to one another, at times one, then the other coming first, a years-long conversation about music and language, and about life and love. The poet Octavio Paz writes that “love is a wager against time and its accidents” through which “we catch a glimpse, in this life, of the other life. Not of eternal life, but… of pure vitality." Something like that intuition or delusion or hope has inspired the making of Stranger Love. To body forth that vision in performance at full scale has been our immoderate aspiration. Nothing is impossible, sings the chorus at the end of Act I.
The sources of Stranger Love are abundant and diverse. Plato’s Symposium informs the structure of the three acts, and his conception of love (erôs) has been a tutelary spirit. The story of seemingly star-crossed lovers who persevere past all accident is familiar, even archetypal, while the threats any particular couple encounters, and how they respond to them, are poignantly unique and singularly their own. Molly and Leopold Bloom are not Penelope and Odysseus, and yet we recognize the shape of experience and hear the echoes across time and space.
Through the interplay of particular and abstract, through dialogue and narrative, through dance and music, Stranger Love endeavors to tell a new story, a new kind of story, that is also deeply familiar, and that invites the audience to dwell within it and, in the end, to complete it with us. “Another opera about love?,” someone asked me. The right answer, I think, is that we could do no other. We couldn’t not make this very thing. But also, as one of Shakespeare’s poems puts it, love is like the sun, daily new and old. Just so, Stranger Love is telling what is told.