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Improvement

Robert Ashley

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Album Review

In the past 15 years, Ashley, both as composer and writer, has invented a new kind of opera of far-ranging narrative discourse and vocal inflection that replaces the older romantic opera where the characters exist only to move along the plot. This new form arrived in a series of operas-for-TV that speak with remarkable feeling and intelligence of contemporary society, history and mind — Perfect Lives (seven episodes), Atalanta (Acts of God) (three episodes), and Now Eleanor's Idea (four episodes).

"Improvement" from Now Eleanor's Idea is for voices and electronic orchestra, and has an uniquely original sound. The basic premise of the opera is presented in the prelude called "The Argument": "To continue I must explain an idea I am inadequate to communicate...Now Eleanor's Idea conceived as if in a flash of light, the offering of images is a radical form of Judaism which has come to us unacknowledged in the same form as Protestantism, Modernism, Science and Theater as we know it...Her idea explains...how all of these things have come together...For the sake of argument Don is Spain in 1492, and Linda is the Jews." We are taken through genuinely humorous, surreal and poignant modern situations which serve as metaphors: "The Airline Ticket Counter" (where Don explains why his wife or her luggage are not with him), "Back Home Some Days She Pretends She's Someone Else," "The Contents of Her Purse," "He Tries to Teach Junior Jr. to Play Golf Left Handed," "North (Berlin/A Tango)," "The Doctor (All Things Rolled Into One)," "The Big City (But Only As If in a Dream)," etc. Through these touching incidents and characters, and a music that is equally intimate and dramatically universal, we are presented with a sense of the "eternal present." A masterpiece. ~ "Blue" Gene Tyranny, Rovi

Biography

Born: 28 March 1930 in Ann Arbor, MI

Genre: Classical

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s

Studied with Ross Lee Finney, Roberto Gerhard, Leslie Bassett. Music degrees from Univ. of Michigan and Manhattan School of Music, worked in Speech Research Lab (psychoacoustics and cultural speech patterns) and was a Research Assistant in acoustics at the Architectural Research Lab. Co-founder legendary ONCE Group in the 1960s, co-director Center for Contemporary Music at Mills College in 1970s. Created new kind of opera (sometimes called the New Narrative opera) in works like That Morning Thing...
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Improvement, Robert Ashley
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