Introduction & Table of Contents
Playwright Dan O’Brien and composer Jonathan Berger worked in collaboration to create Visitations, a chamber opera diptych comprising two distinct libretti that each explore aspects of madness and the unearthly.
Part 1, Theotokia, invokes a conversation-in-visions between Leon, a man driven mad by messianic delusions, and the shadow of his church-going mother, imagined both as Maria Theotokia (Mary in her role as God’s harbinger) and the Yeti (the primordial Himalayan matriarch and monster). Like Theotokia, Part 2, The War Reporter, examines a journey of self-reflection and presents an attempt at understanding trauma.
Visitations was commissioned jointly by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Mellon Foundation, and Stanford University, where it premiered at the Bing Concert Hall in April 2013, with musical arrangement by Jonathan Berger and direction by Rinde Eckert. Blackbird presents the full text of the libretti with accompanying notes by O’Brien, Berger, Eckert, and video designer Mark DeChiazza. Stanford’s video of both operas supplements the texts. The opera adds another chapter to O’Brien’s continuing exploration of the true story of Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, Paul Watson.
In the accompanying commentary, Dan O’Brien’s introduction recounts the genesis of writing the piece with Berger; Berger notes the musical choices made to realize the work; and Rinde Eckert’s notes recall the difficulty of shaping two unrelated libretti into a seamless whole. Mark DeChiazza enumerates the many ways he used mundane objects and Watson’s own recycled photographs to appropriately “build [the] looming miraculous fantasies” and “visual chaos” of the libretti.