The Indiana University Festival of the Arts begins on May 20 and 21 in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre with Passion with Tropes, composed by IU faculty member Don Freund. It’s a 21st-century passion with tropes that take it from the liturgical to the existential.
Freund composed Passion with Tropes in 1983. Conductor Carmen Helena Tellez had heard the piece, but it was a casual encounter. Freund remembers how the new project began. Here are some highlights from the interview.
Anybody who knows Carmen knows how on fire she is about multimedia presentations and new ways of looking at theater and music and digital arts, and anything cutting-edge in the way people can appreciate the way music and visual and theater elements are brought together. She was looking for something to bring together a team of artists who wanted to create a new, immersive theater production. As she was thinking about the kind of project she wanted to plan, she looked deeper into Passion with Tropes and realized that it would allow her to do all these things.
Bach At The Center
One of the main inspirations of my life has been the music of J.S. Bach, particularly Bach’s St. Mathew Passion and the St. John Passion as well, so the idea of a passion seemed like something a contemporary composer could do something with. But as a contemporary composer I didn’t want to deal strictly with gospel and the traditional Christian way of viewing it. I wanted to look at the Passion as a humanistic, existential kind of experience. So although my work looks at Christ’s death on the cross and uses a lot of scripture and a lot of ritual from Catholic liturgy, it also uses extraneous elements with tropes. Tropes are the kinds of things that are added on top.
Tropes On Top Of An Underlying Question
In this case the tropes are poems and recitations from famous 20th century authors. Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five is one of the continuing themes throughout the piece. There’s poetry by Anne Sexton and Allen Ginsberg. These allow us to look at the Passion, the experience of Christ’s death, as something all humans experience. The catch line for the whole thing is a poem by a 19th-century French poet, Charles Peguy. It keeps asking — and this keeps recurring through the piece — why did Christ cry out at the moment he was dying? Shouldn’t this have been a happy moment, as he was going back to God?
The answer that Passion with Tropes tries to provide is that human experience may be more fun than being God. The limit of your life, the fact that you know you have only a short time to live, is what gives life special meaning. I think a god experiencing this kind of life would be unhappy with death as any of us would be, because it’s something we want to hold onto very dearly.
The Work Of My Life
It’s a piece that’s very close to my heart. It’s my biggest work, maybe the work of my life. For Carmen to suggest bringing it on stage with this kind of production — it’s my dream, it’s the high spot of my life. It’s an amazing piece that brings together chorus and orchestra and jazz ensemble and jazz singers and actors and dancers and an array of visual things, an incredible production that’s about 80 minutes long. It’s probably the most intense 80 minutes of music theater of the century.
Passion with Tropes team members: Robert Shakespeare, lighting; Margaret Dolinsky, digital art; Susanne Schwibs, film maker; Elizabeth Shea, choreography; Sandra Freund, conductor of the children’s chorus; Gerard Pauwels, actor; Jonathan Courtemanche, stage direction; Paul Brunner, technical direction; Ed Dambik, digital visualization; Carmen Helena Tellez, conductor.