January 27, 2022

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Style-Blurring, Politically Billed Opera Wins Major Songs Prize

“Orlando,” the Austrian composer Olga Neuwirth’s unruly and brazenly political opera adaptation of the Virginia Woolf novel, which manufactured historical past as the initial work by a female to be offered by the Vienna State Opera, has received the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition.

When she figured out the news — declared on Monday by the College of Louisville, which administers the award — Neuwirth, 53, was on the cellular phone with a person else and did not know how to respond to a mysterious simply call. “I never know everyone from Louisville,” she claimed in a video job interview. “I did not expect this at all.”

It was truly a surprise in portion due to the fact the award — which arrives with $100,000 and a area together with luminaries together with Kaija Saariaho, Pierre Boulez and Gyorgy Kurtag — is for 2022, and “Orlando” premiered two yrs ago. In spite of a DVD launch of the creation coming out this month, it was, Neuwirth mentioned, “not on my brain any more.”

The work — a subversive blurring of genre, time and politics reflecting on how minor has transformed in excess of the generations, still how a lot transform is attainable — jolted the typically conservative Vienna Point out Opera. It is also a thing of a milestone for the Grawemeyer, which due to the fact its inaugural award in 1985 has been given to only 3 other women before Neuwirth (an difficulty Andrew Norman called focus to when he received the 2017 prize).

“‘Orlando’ is an massive, supremely ambitious work,” Marc Satterwhite, the award’s director, reported in a statement. “The libretto and multifaceted score challenge our preconceptions of gender and sexual roles and check our thoughts of what opera is and is not.”

Woolf’s novel, a fantastical parody of biographies, follows its for good-youthful protagonist as a result of the generations: from Orlando’s many years as a favored of Elizabeth I to the book’s publication in 1928. Showing up very first as a titled guy, the character abruptly gets a female — who afterwards faces a comparatively disheartening lifetime on the other aspect of gender politics. Sally Potter adapted the tale into a wry and dreamy 1992 movie, starring Tilda Swinton, that carried Orlando’s story into the late 20th century.

Neuwirth’s opera goes a different step additional, getting the plot to the existing — a globe facing local climate disaster, the rise of nationalism and the persistence of the patriarchy — and on the lookout toward a better foreseeable future. “It’s not kitschy, but in a way it’s hopeful,” she explained in the interview. “And we need to have to retain that in our hearts. Or else dislike will fill it up far more and far more. We are all unique, but just by listening to each other we can test to create a different world.”

Her “Orlando” addresses numerous hundred a long time about a few hours, with a score of efficiently fleeting stylistic shifts and disorientingly fuzzy instrumental distinctions — what Neuwirth has described as a kind of androgyny in sound. “I believe it is definitely my grand piece,” she explained. “I’m in this business now for 35 years, and this introduced almost everything with each other.”

Neuwirth examined at the University of Audio and Doing Arts in Vienna, then at the San Francisco Conservatory of Audio and the San Francisco Artwork Institute. She explained her time in the United States as formative amid open up-minded creative buddies and relaxed acquaintance with the chess legend Bobby Fischer, she thought about audio in a additional inclusive, genre-embracing way.

“Orlando” followed other phase performs, which include a harrowing 2003 adaptation of David Lynch’s movie “Lost Freeway.” It starred the mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey and featured artists from outside opera — among them the cabaret legend Justin Vivian Bond as Orlando’s child and the trend designer Rei Kawakubo, who did the costumes.

Nonetheless in bringing the manufacturing to life at the Vienna Condition Opera, Neuwirth explained, “I experienced a good deal of fights.” The organization gave it a operate of only 5 performances, and a revival is currently not expected. “Orlando” may perhaps have been a breakthrough for the residence, but the simple fact that it came and went, she additional, “is a indication that the system has not transformed.”

Neuwirth has recently confronted other setbacks. Her next opera, “Manga for Lovers” — whose crew contains the “Lost Highway” screenwriter Barry Gifford, the innovative director Yuval Sharon and the soprano Julia Bullock — experienced been planned for the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris upcoming drop, but was canceled, with no new opening in sight. “Keyframes for a Hippogriff,” her commission for the New York Philharmonic’s Undertaking 19 series to commemorate the 19th Modification, was intended to premiere in June 2020 but continues to be delayed by the pandemic because the piece calls for a children’s choir. (It was as an alternative initial offered by the Berlin Philharmonic in September.)

“I nonetheless consider there are so quite a few gifted composers out there, it feels like Russian roulette, in a constructive way,” Neuwirth stated of the Grawemeyer news, which follows her profitable the Wolf Prize in Music previously this calendar year. “But following everything, and the total story with ‘Orlando,’ it is a really fantastic indicator to retain heading.”