THE SCHOOLING OF DESIRE

THE SCHOOLING OF DESIRE

A piece exploiting the repetition of an action and the repetition of an aria to explore the rubric of discipline (e.g. school, spinster teacher, schooled voice i.e. operatic singing, etc.), and its role in repression by dogma (e.g. education, religion, politics etc.). The rigidity of the actions are in contrast to the voluptuous aria (“Mon coeur s’ouvre a ta voix” / aka Delilah’s aria by Bizet) that accompanies those actions. The relentless repetition of the aria gradually transforms its context, where by the third repetition of the aria, the audience are suffering through the performance, just as the performer is suffering.

Desire is contradictory and fragmented. Encoded by the aria’s music and text, the “SPINSTER” t-shirt, the beige long underwear that almost looks nude, the “girly” notebook, and Stephen inhabiting a physically male body but sings a mezzo-soprano aria (that is traditionally sung by a woman to a man) in a mezzo-soprano voice.

On the first instance of the aria, Stephen stands still in a spot and tears ruled sheets from a “girly” notebook in defiance at the audience gathered as if they were observing a class. In the second instance of the aria, Stephen traverses back and forth the length of the blackboard on each musical phrase to trace the lines of desire encoded in the music by holding the chalk at a height that is consonant to the pitch and intensity he is singing. At the third instance, Stephen picks up a cane below the blackboard and circles the notebook and its torn sheets in a controlled clockwise manner while caning himself on the musical beats. Each time he passes the blackboard, his sleeve brushes against it gradually erasing all but the lines of the highest and lowest notes. At its conclusion, Stephen kneels on the torn sheets gazing at the notebook, and sings-screams the high note on “je t’aime” as the cane hits him particularly hard, and prostrates himself revealing his reddened back.

On a structural level, it explores the process of semantic exchange as the aria informs the meaning of action, and vice versa; and how that changes when the same aria is repeated for a different action/object. The disciplined context reshapes the most seductive aria in the opera canon, while the aria in turn eroticizes the disciplinary.

CONCEIVED & PERFORMED BY: STEPHEN CHEN | COMPLETED: 02/13


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