Robert Ashley: You Can’t Call It Anything Else But Opera
FRANK J. OTERI: You’re very lucky in that a lot of your works have been documented on recordings and that’s the way they’ll be perceived of by people, but then again it’s also a double edged sword in that since these works often have a visual component or have a multi-media component of some sort, experiencing them on a CD player or on the radio, although you did a piece for radio, is not necessarily getting a sense of what your work really is. So, ideally, how should someone come to your music? Should it be through live performance, through video recording, through audio recording, what is the best medium?
ROBERT ASHLEY: Well, I’ve dreamed for the last twenty-five years of making opera for television. I made this piece twenty five years ago called Music with Roots in the Aether, which I thought was very successful and it’s been shown 50 or 60 times for thousands of people and it’s been shown on local cable stations. It’s never made it to the networks. And then because of that I got the connection to do Perfect Lives from The Kitchen. We were able to do Perfect Lives as an opera for television. And then with the director Lawrence Brickman, I made a kind of demonstration tape of the kind of techniques that we would use for Atalanta to try to get some television producer interested. But essentially, I couldn’t get through. And then the quartet of operas are all exactly formatted for television. And, I don’t know, they may happen. Every once in awhile, someone says they want to do one of the operas for television. And we work on it and nothing comes together. So I don’t know, I don’t have any feelings about it really. I mean, when I make a CD of one of the pieces I want it to sound as much like a CD as possible. When we do a performance we change everything around so it looks as much like a performance as I can make it look like a performance. But if we ever had a chance to do one of the operas for television, it would be yet another version of the same thing.
FRANK J. OTERI: Now, is T.V. the ideal audience?
ROBERT ASHLEY: T.V. for me would be the ideal audience. I’ve thought that for 25 years. T.V. with really high quality sound would be the ideal audience for my music because of the intimacy of T.V. and because on television you can go I don’t know how many times faster than you can go on stage. On stage, if you want to move the chorus, go off stage, go onstage, you have to write three of four minutes of music just to get the chorus from off stage to on stage. In T.V. you don’t have to do that, it can happen in a 30th of a second, so the whole idea of where you are, who you are and what you’re singing about, happens very much faster and I’m interested in that speed. I love the idea of that speed as part of our culture.
FRANK J. OTERI: In the early days of television, they coined the term “soap opera” for continuous serialized daytime dramas. It’s funny because I was thinking when I saw the videotapes of Perfect Lives, which is in seven separate serialized episodes, that you’ve created something of a “soap opera” opera.
ROBERT ASHLEY: It is…
FRANK J. OTERI: But it’s not just the structure of it, the characters and the plot are also like something out of daytime T.V. Even the title Perfect Lives sounds sort of like Days of Our Lives.
ROBERT ASHLEY: It’s a soap opera. There’s no doubt about it. (laughs)
FRANK J. OTERI: It’s wonderful. Now, if only we could get people watching Perfect Lives instead of Days of Our Lives!
ROBERT ASHLEY: I don’t mind what else they watch. I just want them to watch Perfect Lives! Everything is O.K. except there isn’t enough music on television. The people who run television have not realized yet that audiences can be really interested in music if you treat it with the same attention to detail that you treat professional football or professional baseball or something special, like British accents doing Masterpiece Theatre. I’m doing a pitch now… Opera for television has an enormous potential, but nobody in television has woken up to that idea yet.
FRANK J. OTERI: Well, hopefully the television people will visit the Web and read this and hear your music and do it!