Why is opera an appropriate medium to articulate the story of The Floating Box?
Jason Hwang: We call The Floating Box an opera but there are hybrid elements to this work. The orchestra is an untraditional ensemble. Flutes, clarinets, vibraphone, world percussion (including Chinese opera percussion), accordion and cello with the Chinese pipa and erhu create an evocative sound, expressing both the physical and psychological landscape of the story. Through this combinaton of European and Chinese instruments, the score has a "world" music dimension. I am fortunate to have Wang Guo Wei (erhu), Min Xiao Fen (pipa), William Schimmel (accordion), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion), Thomas Ulrich (cello), Diana Herold (vibraphone), and the rest of the orchestra, who are all outstanding musicians, playing my music. One reason why I composed for traditional opera singers is that they have the technical skills to sing the music I wished to compose. Soprano Sandia Ang, mezzo Makiko Narumi and baritone Zheng Zhou form our stellar cast. I have them singing in a "contemporary" style which will include passages influenced by jazz, blues and Chinese opera.
It was also my experience as a violinst in the jazz/ new music improvisation scene that stirred my interest in operatic voices. I had performed in Butch Morris's Modette of which an early version featured an operatic baritone. I also performed in Henry Threadgill's oratorio Run Silent, Run Deep at BAM and in Anthony Braxton's operas created under his MacArthur grant. I didn't play with Anthony Davis, but am inspired by his groundbreaking opera, X. My approach to opera is through these experiences, which is not the usual path.
Finally, our opera is a story full of intimate gestures, not the broad strokes of grand opera. The music is composed to fulfill this story, not provide a platform for operatic performance. "The Floating Box" is perhaps opera approaching theater.