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Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding Make an Appeal to Get Their Opera to a Premiere

Wayne Shorter, composer of the opera 'Iphigenia'
courtesy of the artist
Composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter at home with the score for his opera 'Iphigenia.'

Greek tragedy meets American ingenuity in Iphigenia, the long-awaited opera by Wayne Shorter and Esperanza Spalding. A mythical work in progress for the last several years, it has now reached a developmental stage foreign to most other operatic productions: a crowdfunding campaign.

On Monday, an Indiegogo post was published with the stated intention of raising $75,000 to carry the opera one last lap to the finish line. The campaign is the work of Real Magic, a company that Spalding and executive producer Jeff Tang created to produce Iphigenia independently, with producer Cath Brittan and Octopus Theatricals.

Shorter — revered saxophonist, Newark native, NEA Jazz Master — composed Iphigenia in close collaboration with Spalding, the bassist and vocalist who never met a high concept she couldn't personalize. As the title implies, inspiration for Spalding's libretto comes from the final play by Euripides, which describes how divine intervention spared the princess Iphigenia from a sacrificial death at the hands of her father, Agamemnon. Goethe's 18th-century interpretation of this myth, which picks up after that climactic moment, first gave Shorter the idea for his opera.

Esperanza Spalding in a workshop for 'Iphigenia,' the opera she has created with Wayne Shorter.
courtesy of the artist
Esperanza Spalding in a workshop for 'Iphigenia,' the opera she has created with Wayne Shorter.

Over the last several years, Spalding has shared tantalizing hints of the opera's progress on social media and elsewhere. In a video posted in 2019, she explained how pianist Danilo Pérez and bassist John Pattitucci, longtime members of the Wayne Shorter Quartet, had input in the music's ultimate form.

"The orchestra is centered around Danilo and John, who are using the score as the foundation, but they're improvising with the musical content," she said, adding: "It only becomes what it is in the space where all of us are imbuing it with our life experience."

A separate video, titled Iphigenia: Behind the Scenes, captures Shorter at his composer's desk, and rehearsals both at his house and in a black box theater.

Iphigenia: Behind the Scenes

"Iphigenia is not an adaptation of the Greek myth as much as it is an intervention into myth-making itself," reads an explanation on the Indiegogo page. "Led by award-winning director Lileana Blain-Cruz, and abetted by luminary architect and scenic designer Frank Gehry, the entire creative process has led us to understand how stories have been traditionally told, and how we must disrupt existing systems and create our own alternative structures and stories."

Esperanza Spalding and Wayne Shorter, co-creators of the opera 'Iphigenia'
courtesy of the artist
Esperanza Spalding and Wayne Shorter, co-creators of the opera 'Iphigenia'

Part of that disruption involves a feminist engagement with the Iphigenia myth, a framework that Spalding was eager to explore.

But it also extends to the way that she and Shorter have chosen to generate this project — separate from the usual commissioning bodies, and effectively on their own terms.

The Indiegogo campaign for Iphigenia closes on April 30.

Nate Chinen
[Copyright 2024 WRTI Your Classical and Jazz Source]