Opera Rejected By Latvian Conductor Premiering in US

Eugene Birman and Scott Diel. Photo: Kaupo Kikkas

A new controversial opera, “State of the Union”, will premiere in Marquette, Michigan tonight after having its European premiere in Latvia cancelled due to its supposed anti-capitalist sentiments. The final US performance of the opera will take place on Oct. 6 in New York – at Trinity Church on Wall Street, just across the grounds from where the Occupy Wall Street movement took root

The opera was slated for its European premiere in Latvia in March, but according to a report from Estonia’s ERR News, Latvian Radio Choir conductor Kaspars Putniņš withdrew his agreement to perform the work due to its political message.

The Estonian report quotes a letter of explanation from Putniņš to composer Birman, saying that the reason for his decision “is the message itself… 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,” said Birman. “I had a Latvian conductor telling me the piece wasn’t pro-capitalist enough?”

“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.”

“State of the Union” will tour the United States starting September 29th in Marquette, Michigan with the final performance on October 6th in New York at Wall Street’s Trinity Church.

Part opera seria, part satire, the opera 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.

“State of the Union” is an opera that an island gave birth to. Commissioned by the Rabbit Island Foundation, 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.

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

Scheduled performances of “State of the Union”

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

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