An Innovative Partnership Between Victory Hall Opera and UVA Library
In books, as in life, there is magic in the margins. This was the premise behind Book Traces @ UVA, a large-scale project that uncovered and catalogued “interventions” found in the books in the circulating collections at the UVA Library that included scribbled notes from previous owners, inscriptions, artwork, correspondence, and photographs. Last year, a collaboration with Charlottesville’s Victory Hall Opera proved that there is music there too. Marginalia, a song cycle from composer Matt Boehler,with support from UVA English professor Andrew Stauffer, who created Book Traces, and Kristin Jensen, who managed the project, took its inspirations from these margin discoveries. “One of our Victory Hall Opera patrons told us that she was working on the Book Traces project at the UVA Library,” said VHO Artistic Director Miriam Gordon-Stewart. “We immediately found the idea of documenting these marginalia to be fascinating and thought it would provide a wonderful starting place for Matt to embark on his own imagination exercise. It was about using these small bits of information to create a whole picture. That is really where art functions best, taking the things we know and using the imagination to fill in the blanks.” While the concept itself was innovative, the performance was made even more special by its venue--the wood-paneled McGregor Room in Alderman Library.
The performance featured three Victory Hall Ensemble singers, Will Ferguson, Miriam Gordon-Stewart and the composer Matt Boehler, as well as Music faculty member and Charlottesville Symphony Percussionist I-Jen Fang and guest instrumentalists Garrick Zoeter (clarinet) and Kristen Wojcik (cello). The collaboration was the latest in an ongoing partnership between Victory Hall Opera and the McIntire Department of Music, and often supported by UVA Arts. The two worked together to produce Drugsong, a hybrid opera/theater/literature project billed as an “opera within as play” from noted Charlottesville artist Jennifer Hoyt Tidwell. The piece, based on the Thomas Mann novella Tristan, and incorporating elements of Richard Wagner’s 1859 opera Tristan und Isolde, takes place in a sanitarium in the Swiss Alps and features two people discovering an opera score while all of their fellow patients and staff had gone off sledding. “We were inspired by the idea that two people in this situation of extreme isolation discover an opera, and when playing through it at the piano, are actually able to sing and perform it,” Gordon-Stewart said. “Jennifer picked that up and ran with it, developing a whole world of interesting characters while using the process that she has been developing for years with her regular collaborators Kara Burke and Sian Richards. It was a mishmash of different worlds coming together to create a new kind of theater.” Like Marginalia, the piece was enhanced by its unconventional staging in Brooks Hall. “We draw from the University both as an intellectual resource and as a physical setting,” Gordon-Stewart said. “No matter what you are working on at UVA, someone on Grounds has written a quintessential text on that subject. We eagerly draw upon that wealth of knowledge and talent, from working with some of UVA’s leading musicians including Katie Ambrose on French Horn, violinist Daniel Sender, and cellist Adam Carter; to collaborating with staff and students at the School of Architecture to create a 3-D cardboard set at the Fabrication Lab. “
“We are able to show academics another way of looking at their own material,” Gordon-Stewart said, “so there is a bilateral exchange.”