GAZETTE: How familiar were you with the Iphigenia story?

SPALDING: I didn’t know or care about Iphigenia. And then, of course, the way that Wayne pitched it, the way that he spoke about the character, I was like, “Damn, she sounds interesting.” So I started reading translations and analyses. I’m not finding the character, but feeling little hints, little allusions to what this character signifies. And then, one day, I was like, “Oh, these stories were all written by men about this woman figure.” So, of course, she’s eluding the grasp of my appeal to connect with her and meet her because she doesn’t exist! She’s a character, she’s an expression of the human psyche as understood by the men who’ve been writing her throughout history. In recent years, there have been more iterations and translations of her, but we have to remember that she’s traveled on through history predominantly through the minds and mouths and hands of men.

GAZETTE: You workshopped some of the libretto at Harvard with the musicologist Carolyn Abbate. Tell me about that.

SPALDING: First of all, I was like, “How am I going to really bring forth this libretto and give it the energy that it needs right now and teach two courses?” I was kind of in crisis mode leaning into spring 2020. And I had been sitting in on Carolyn Abbate’s lectures about opera and just sitting with her to discuss the project itself and share with her where I was at and the concept. Then it just kind of struck me and I pitched this idea to her: What if we make a lab that invites students who are passionate about opera, who are passionate about theater and writing, to dive into a process with the same basic ingredients that I am confronted with, and I can share with them how my development process is taking shape, and reflect on and be like a co-explorer as they take a similar journey. And she thought it was a cool idea and then we co-led or — I don’t like the word teach — but we co-curated that lab and through the course of that lab, I was able to finish the libretto. There really was something about dissolving the “I’m a singular writer voice holed up in my little writer’s room trying to solve this.”

GAZETTE: You’ve worked with Esperanza before, but this project took eight years to complete. Tell me about this collaboration. For some of it, you were both living at architect Frank Gehry’s home in Santa Monica, and for other parts, you were on different coasts. What made it work so well?

SHORTER: We didn’t come together with the idea of assessing if something worked, if it had worked. We both shy away from that word “work.” It’s kind of mechanical. It’s some sort of gamble where you negate yourself completely from what’s going to transpire. So, we would say, “Let’s see what happens.” We’re still in charge of “what happens.” Not in charge, but we have some say in it.

It was like kids on the playground; finding a lot of gratitude within each other for doing what we’re doing, doing it sort of fearlessly and not getting in the way of the discovery.

GAZETTE: What are you hoping audiences will take away from the show?

SHORTER: It would be nice if the audience would consider themselves to be enfolded in an unfolding and welcomed.

SPALDING: I feel that all of this work is really just to make a kind of portal or access point to the music that Wayne wrote. And if we do our job well, everyone in the room, or anyone who wants to have that kind of experience, will feel their own sense capacity for beauty and death and poetry activated and titillated and stretched. I feel that’s really the purpose of the work. Everything that could be said has already been said at some point along the way on this human journey. So it’s not about “Oh, I want them to get the message” or “I think we nailed it.” It’s more like, “I want this to be radiated into the world and, and made available for people to experience.” And I know that’s gonna happen, so I feel we’re already moving in the right direction.

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