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Review of Petr Kotik's Opera

Petr Kotik Opera Is An Intense & Thought-Provoking Experience

Throughout his career, Petr Kotik has explored musical boundaries as a performer and composer.  He studied flute at the Conservatory and Music Academy in Prague, and composition at the Music Academy in Vienna.  In the 1970’s, Kotik performed experimental music and established himself as a musician full of new ideas.  And now, in 2018, Kotik has redefined his path to composing, especially in his 2014-2015 chamber opera “Master-Pieces.”  

Focused on the importance of text and narration, Kotik’s opera highlighted Gertrude Stein’s 1936 lecture “What Are Master-Pieces And Why Are There So Few of Them,” with interspersed text from Stein’s “The Wars I Have Seen”, written in 1943-1944.  The Bohemian Theater housed this production last weekend, and audience members witnessed the U.S. premiere of the fully staged version directed by Jirí Nekvasil.

Kotik’s preliminary ideas for creating “Master-Pieces” came together organically when he was commissioned to compose an opera for the festival New Opera Days Ostrava (NODO) 2014 festival.  He started his work by composing a piece for a soprano and violin. During this time, he was transcribing Stein’s lecture, and thought it best to combine the two. Michael Raub also contributed to the creation and in 2015, the chamber opera premiered in the biennial festival Ostrava Days.

At the Bohemian Theater, the audience was seated on stage, facing a dimly lit hall. A single spotlight illuminated violinist Pauline Kim Harris as she started to play. Every listener was silent and fully engaged. New spotlights captured other musicians of the S.E.M. Ensemble as they entered, until eventually the chandeliers brightened and revealed soprano Christina Kay.  Kotik conducted from the side of the theater’s main floor and managed to control performers all over the room. Three narrators, Debra Kay Anderson, James Falzone, and Kerry Wolff were heard from the balcony, as they presented text from Stein’s “The Wars I Have Seen.” Mixing the narration with Kay’s singing created a multi-dimensional body of work that allowed the listener to be fully immersed in Gertrude Stein’s thoughts. There were tangents that felt all over the place when tenor Steven Wilson, baritone Jose Pietri-Coimbre and bass Nicholas Hay joined Kay in singing.  Kotik stated that “[t]he work’s energy originates from the very question asked by Stein in her lecture, as she continuously veers away from the subject to contemplate and instigate issues of the creative process and the relationship between the artist and the artist’s work.  The words – sometimes sung and sometimes spoken – strive to retain the poetry of Stein’s language while opening various layers of meaning.” 

“Stein’s ‘Master-Pieces’ is a meditation on the nature of the creative process, and on works that we identify as masterpieces,” Kotik stated.  The music that he composed to showcase all of her text was bold and dramatic. There was never a moment of rest between the entrances of the performers and choreographed movements continuously happening.  
- Jennifer Pyron
- Opera Wire


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