I met Harry Partch when I was cast to sing a role in his opera Delusion of the Fury. The performances were held at Royce Hall on the campus of UCLA, and singers and instrumentalists were in the pit, though visible from the audience. Dancers and actors were above us on the stage. I was struck by the captivating originality of Partch’s musical vision. This was opera unlike any opera that I had ever heard or participated in. The instruments themselves were fascinating to look at and produced sounds that seemed to come from an ancient civilization. We were asked to sing in a style uniquely Partchian, with growls and grunts and other such un-operatic utterances! My role was that of the Old Goat Woman, and although I was still in school at UCLA, my age was not a detriment to the interpretation. The drama was very abstract, and we were participating in a ritual rather than a realistic theatrical experience.
After the performances were completed, we all went into the studio to record the opera for Columbia Masterworks. John McClure was the producer. Having all of the instruments assembled together in a studio for a week was an opportunity to hear and watch them being played undistracted by the stage. How well I remember the sounds of the cloud chamber bowls! And although they were nothing more than sawed off water cooler bottles (then made of glass and not plastic), their sound was eloquent and mysterious.
I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Partch at his home in San Diego when I accompanied the composer and writer Eric Salzman who was writing an article on Partch for Stereo Review. I brought along a sketchbook and made many drawings of Partch, whose face was lined and expressive. His music and his approach to theatre have become an integral part of my compositional world, and as I begin work on my third opera, I realize how influential he continues to be in my life.
|from Thirteen views of Harry Partch by Victoria Bond|