Machunas a performance oratorio in four colors (1997-2003), 150’
Created in collaboration with Frank J. Oteri
Around 1995 I started looking for a composer who would construct with me my ultimate performance: a singing opera. After a long search I had come upon the theme of George Maciunas’ life during a lunch with the writer Anthony Haden Guest. George Maciunas, was an architect, artist, activist and founder of the Fluxus art movement, the last avant-garde utopia of the modern era.
I then spent a couple of years researching details, interviewing acquaintances like the artist Nam June Paik, Maciunas’ sister and others who knew him. The artist and scholar Jon Hendricks was especially helpful. I decided to misspell the protagonist’s name due to phonetic considerations and the desire to separate this story from any accurate description of his life.
Building the piece, it became clear that the story of MACHUNAS is an emblem of the end of twentieth century culture, in all its tragedy, irony, delusions, romance and immense vitality.
The structure was set to become a part of the puzzle of my art, which is often gauged around painting’s basic colors. The acts would not be numbered but identified by Yellow, Green, Red, Blue.
I needed someone who would like to write the libretto with me and create the score based on my outline of the story. I especially wanted the composer to also accept my input for mood, tone, melody, rhythm.
The music was to avoid the formulas of XXth Century sound while also including their influence. I needed a solid theoretical structure with no fear of touching upon sentimental echoes as well.
Luck had it that in Frank J. Oteri I found not only a musical mind but also a wordsmith. Oteri then structured the whole concept around a numerical set of symmetries into which the story was woven through a long and detailed collaboration. The music became a complex adventure reaching beyond my highest wishes.
The four parts, Yellow, Green, Red, Blue, are marked by specific moments of Maciunas’ life. The four acts of MACHUNAS are divided each into 9 episodes.
MACHUNAS begins in Yellow, narrating the days of a young child in the old Lithuania that’s about to be extinguished by the Nazis and Soviets and transitions into Green through the story of a teenager strangely out of place and time in an American-controlled refugee camp in Germany at the end of World War II. In Red, Machunas emerges as a revolutionary crusader protesting the Vietnam War, founding Fluxus, and igniting the downtown SoHo art community in New York City. Finally, in Blue, Machunas is a forgotten and rejected outcast dying prematurely of cancer in Boston.
Throughout the oratorio the protagonist, Machunas, is played by a man singing on one note. All other parts, male and female, are sung by women and are nameless. The score ranges from Lithuanian folkloric songs, Romantic music, twelve-tone compositional structures, a fluxus rock band of electric guitars, sax, synthesizer, shakuhachi, live radio and theremin, to period instruments from the Baroque era. Each act consists of different ensembles, with varying keyboard instruments serving as a continuo. Whereas each of the four acts features a completely different orchestration and stylistic orientation, they all share melodic and harmonic material.
Lucio Pozzi, author
Frank J. Oteri, composer
Premiere at the Center of Contemporary Art, Vilnius, Lithuania, 2005
Donatus Katkus, conductor
St. Christopher Chamber Orchestra of Lithuania.