David Hertzberg: ‘The Wake World’ Opera

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From Opera Wire:

On Sept. 18, Opera Philadelphia world premiered “The Wake World” as part of its 2017 festival. Composer David Hertzberg created an immersive experience that was showcased at the Barnes Foundation and that experimented with form and melody.

As one of Opera Philadelphia’s 2017-2018 Composers-in-Residence, in a program offered in collaboration with Music-Theatre Group, Hertzberg will continue to be an active presence in Philadelphia. OperaWire spoke to the composer about his new work and the process of writing the opera.

OperaWire: How did you get involved with “The Wake World?” Where did you first hear about it and what inspired it?

David Hertzberg: It really came from a site visit that I did when I went to the Barnes Museum. I spent a lot of time at the museum when I studied at Curtis so I was thrilled when they asked me to be part of the festival and that it would take place at the Barnes. They wanted me to respond to the collection, to a particular work or something that spoke to me. So I had a site visit to the Barnes and I started thinking about images of the collection that inspired me. The Barnes Museum is very special because the walls are covered from floor to ceiling with art and arranged in these gorgeous patterns and all these bizarre and fantastical. He thought that by presenting artwork in this way you could highlight the essential form and line that transcends genre and could reveal an essential quality that they all share. I can’t think of any other collection that resembles it.

Hearing the attention that was put in the collection in that walk through it corroborated a lot of my own feeling about the collection. It felt like a shrine, not a museum. It’s reproduced exactly the way it was in his house. It’s a religious experience. I felt like I had to respond to my feelings about the collection and try to evoke and illuminate the experience of it.

Then I remembered reading this Aleister Crowley book a few years ago. He has this fantastical feeling to his writing and I was really struck by it. He wrote a lot about magic and created this unbelievably rich work of associations about all the mystical associations and various religious symbols and I mushed them all together into this ecstatic piece. And “The Wake World” is a very bizarre fairy tale and it is supposed to be an allegory for the various spheres of consciousness. And for Crowley that meant this wild orgy of associations and colors and perfumes that come from all over the place.

The opera is about this girl’s journey through an enchanted palace where she goes to all these different rooms and these bizarre vivid and extremely psychedelic things happen. So on a surface level, the idea of this place automatically struck a chord with me. Like the Barnes Collection, this was something totally different from anything I had ever read.


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