SISYPHUS is a collaboratively-composed opera work that tells a fractured collage of stories that relate to the myth of Sisyphus, King of Corinth and eternal boulder pusher. SISYPHUS is the creation of three artists: Jason Cady, Matthew Welch and Aaron Siegel, all of whom are founders of the New York City-based, composer-focused production company Experiments in Opera. It was premiered in a 4-night run at the Abrons Arts Center in New York City in February 2015.
The intention behind the new opera was to showcase a range of compositional voices in a single piece, juxtaposing styles, genres and stories. The composers decided together on a general telling of the myth, and then selected parts of the story that they wished to tell in their musical language. They brought in the designer Kristen Robinson as well as director Ethan Heard to help shape their story into a cohesive evening of theater, albeit one that requires a lot of jumping around narratively and musically.
SISYPHUS includes three areas of theatrical activity. Situated stage right is the outline of a cube, in which a modern-day Sisyphus (named Brianna) encounters her own eternal punishment embodied by her struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder. She checks her gas burners, locks her door and counts her steps over and over again in a kind of neurotic hell throughout her 10 short scenes. All of the text and music in Brianna’s Cube is written by Matthew Welch. Stage left hosts the room of a teenager named Aegie, a moody girl who wants only to be left alone to create her video art. Aegie is an imagined version of Aegina, a character from the Sisyphus myth whose abduction leads to Sisyphus’ punishment. All of Aegie’s music and text is written by Aaron Siegel. The remainder of the action takes place center stage and is written by Jason Cady. In his seven short scenes, Jason fills in the pieces to the story, including the relationship between Aegina and Zeus, Sisyphus’ hubris as a despot, and the betrayal of Zeus that leads eventually to Sisyphus’ punishment. All of the action in the opera is framed by a bank heist that features a love triangle and some of the performers of a new opera called ‘Sisyphus.’
SISYPHUS clocks in at 60 minutes of nonstop action, including heartfelt drama and hilarious comedy. It is that rare breed of avant garde opera that is above all fun to watch and engage with.