Talking To The Team Behind WOW (A Milli Vanilli Opera)

So why did you choose to make this version an immersive, promenade-style piece?

David Levine: This project is, frankly, opportunistic in relationship to the space that it’s in. I knew going in that the responsibility for the narrative elements was going to be mine. What I was interested in – something I’m always interested in really – is how far you can repeat familiar, uninteresting melodramatic gestures without losing their affective force? In Habit, it’s stock melodrama but it still works. But why does it work if it’s so obviously repeated? Here I was interested in what happens when music gets layered onto voice onto a story that you already know. Can you pump theoretical texts through it, Brian Eno? Can you have an algorithmic orchestra, can you have all this processing and disjunction and still be heartbroken at the end of the day? How far can you push these forms without losing the idea of moving people? A very conventional idea, really: moving people.

We originally conceived this for an opera house, probably in Germany, since I live there half the time. And in Germany opera directing is, frankly, bullshit. You can’t do anything with human bodies. You can’t because the opera singers won’t let you. You can persuade them to sing naked or you can persuade them to sing on a scaffold or you might be able to persuade them to move more than 3MPH while they’re singing.  But their body is an instrument and it’d be like waving a violin around, you know? You don’t do it.

So in Germany, Opera Director is like the highest, best-paid thing you can be, but basically you’re a set designer. You come up with a good concept and a good background and that’s kind of if. It’s inane, because the one really evasive, really immutable, really strange factor in every production is the human body and what it does.  Everything else is just making statements and encoding and the audience decodes and just … bleh.  So the opera was going to be an opera for an opera house and I was like “Eh, okay, I’ll just move these guys around once in a while and we’ll have a set or whatever.”

We knew the three main characters were going to be the producer and Rob and Fab and when we got this residency, BRIC has all these spaces that serve very particular functions in relation to performance and spectacle. Since Rob and Fab were basically shuttled through different spectacles, for this version it made sense to move the audience through each space serving its actual institutional function: This is BRIC’s rehearsal studio, we will use BRIC’s TV studio for the press conference; they have a TV studio here, Rob and Fab spent a lot of time in a recording studio; they have a control room: Rob, Fab and their producers spent a lot of time in the control room. They have a gallery here and one of the Milli Vanilli videos is set in a gallery.

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