An excerpt from Robert Ashley’s opera, “Crash” for six voices and a three-person photo-projection score.
The opera lasts 90 minutes and is played in 6 short, continuous acts. Crash is about a man, unidentified, but clearly an older man—the man-subject. We learn of his attitudes and his prejudices. We learn about his history as a member of a certain economic and social class.
“Crash” has three very different singing Characters. One Character is a person singing as if speaking on the telephone; that is, with the particular, brief intimacy that comes in phone conversations. The singer is trying to explain three important ideas: 1) the powerful cycles measured in number of years, “The Seven Ages of Man,” that drive us; 2) the problem of being small in our society; 3) neighbors and the problems we sometimes have with them. The second Character is a person singing in a detached, deliberate style, as if reading a classic poem. The text describes a peculiar physical and mental problem the man-subject has. The third Character is reciting, very briefly, the important events and ideas the man-subject has lived through. This singing Character has an almost unnoticeable vocal tic, a kind of rarely heard stutter. (This vocal tic is from the composer’s personal experience.)
The six singers rotate through the three Characters over the six acts. Thus, each singer will be heard portraying each of the three Characters once. This technique will highlight for the audience the unique vocal qualities of each singer, as in the aria technique in traditional opera. The three singers not singing as characters in any particular act sing as a vocal “orchestra” to accompany the three soloists. The music of the opera is entirely vocal. All of the singing is very soft vocally, but amplified, and all of the singing of the words is very fast. This is a special kind of vocal sound that the audience will have rarely experienced. This vocal sound distinguishes Crash as an opera.
Throughout the opera there will be three simultaneous, but not synchronized, projections of photographs depicting vast, beautiful landscapes. The technique of the photo-projection is intended to allow the audience to hear the singing and the texts without typical visual distractions, creating an ideal situation for a special kind of meditation.
Aired on rTV: 2015
Performance: April 15-18, 2015