Constructing “Gallo”

We asked composer Ken Ueno to elaborate on some key elements on the structure of his Gallo. Here is what he explained.

The structure of the piece is influenced by baroque opera, where different types of music, with a particular kind of function, interweave to create a rational form. Instead of toccatas, ritornellos, recitatives, arias, and choruses, however, I have passacaglias, sonatas, instrumental interludes, and “tape” music.  As the piece is about landscape and nature, the piece is somewhat cyclical.  What skews the symmetry is the gendered-ness of the halves. The Rooster begins the opera (how can it not, right? A rooster crows at dawn.) and the soprano is birthed by the landscape. In the second half, the Rooster is consumed by the landscape and the soprano is left to sing a lullaby alone.

The “narrative” of the opera is formalist.  It doesn’t tell a linear story like many operas do. Besides Beckett, I’m also a big fan of the theatre of Tadashi Suzuki and Robert Wilson. Their works, I feel have made me more aware of the theatrical potential of different aspects of embodiment and presence and material and time, aspects that I am drawn to and wanted this piece to also manifest. The way actors walk in Suzuki. The lighting in Wilson. Pure temporality in Beckett. There are innovative ways to make a statement without having to tell a traditional story. In fact, we are currently living in a golden era of television. Narrative structures are more complex than ever before. In a more esoteric, “artsy,” medium like opera, why shouldn’t there be space for us to also try to make more complex statements too, when mainstream mediums are increasingly more innovative?

I lived in Boston longer than I lived anywhere else. I used live in the Back Bay and had a membership to the Museum of Fine Arts, where I used to go often. One of my favorite paintings there is Picasso’s version of the “Rape of the Sabine Women,” which he painted in response to the assassination of JFK. As opposed to previous paintings in the history of the “Rape of Sabine Women” paintings (e.g. Poussin and David), in which the paintings were studies in density and mass of humanity, Picasso represented only one Roman, one Sabine warrior, one Sabine woman, and one Sabine child. Somehow, for me, reducing the number of protagonists made it more relatable, more human, and more personal. My hero, Samuel Beckett’s plays are similarly austere. That’s why there are only two singers in Gallo.  But I think there are three characters, the third being the landscape, the set/installation.

The main theme of Gallo is ontology. The Rooster (countertenor) and the Shopper/Mother (soprano), not only represent male and female characters, but they also represent the intellectual and the emotional.  And they exist in different temporalities.  The Rooster represents history. He is an 18th century figure that reminds us of philosophical arguments that ensued during the Age of Enlightenment in response to epic natural disasters. When Fukushima happened, I remember thinking in my mind, similar questions: “Have we now run the course of man’s “scientific” period? Was it folly for man to have thought that he had mastered nature? Is there a God and is he angry at us?” As a cinephile, I was profoundly moved by the final scene in Fellini’s Cassanova where the legendary lover, at the end of his life, dances alone with a mannequin. In Gallo, the Rooster dances alone twice. It is a dance of memory and he is thinking of the other (perhaps a lost love?). Add to this, the music he is dancing to is a “Stravinsky-fied” baroque cello sonata by Domenico Galli (yes, Galli!) that a baroque cellist friend of mine thinks was originally a duo for violin and cello (the violin part having been lost). The two singers never sing together, but there are subtle resonances of material and references to each other’s sung texts throughout. The Rooster’s solo dances of memory are echoed by the Soprano’s lullaby, where she sings directly at (and for) the lost Rooster.

Gallo plays Thursday through Saturday, May 22-24 and 29-30, 2014 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, May 31 at 2 p.m. with talk-backs on Friday, May 23 and Saturday, May 24. All performances are in The Zack Box at The Boston Conservatory, 8 The Fenway, Boston, MA. Tickets are $15 general admission, $10 seniors and free for students with valid IDs; tickets can be purchased from The Boston Conservatory Box Office beginning Monday, May 12, 2014. Please visit or call (617) 912-9222 for more Box Office information. Gallo is sung in English and 70 minutes in duration.

**The audience will be asked to remove their shoes before they enter the theater and invited to lie down during a portion of the performance. Please let The Box Office know if you require special assistance.**

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