Don Freund’s PASSION with Tropes is a collage of various music, theatre, and music-theatre experiences, using a collage of texts about religion, love, death, and the experience of human existence. It may be described as a theatre work about the experience of attending an oratorio (or, more specifically, a Passion). But the medium of the oratorio is supplemented or challenged by the invasion of other musical and dramatic media (e.g., chamber songs, pop songs, excerpts from plays, poetry recitations, philosophical declarations, sermons, processions) just as the scriptural telling of the Passion story is convoluted, supplemented, and challenged by texts from the works of over 40 poets, playwrights, and philosophers. Although Christ’s passion and death are historically fixed in time, theology and folk tradition tend to view these events as timeless, eternal, and on-going. The events of the last days and hours of Christ’s life are presented out of sequence in PASSION with Tropes. This temporal re-arrangement gives the work a surrealistic, non-linear quality, and allows a fresh interpretation of familiar scriptural passages, particularly when juxtaposed with “tropes.”The word trope has a double meaning: in one sense, the use of a word or expression in a figurative way; in another, better known to students of music history, a phrase or verse added as an embellishment or interpolation to sung parts of the Mass in the medieval period.
PASSION with Tropes is about life as defined by suffering and death and love; it is about music, about time, about the theatre experience, about sounds, about words, about beginnings and middles and ends, about confusion and frustration and desire, and about God who became human and finite in order to taste all these things and find a love that no all-knowing eternal being could feel.
Thanks to an Indiana University New Frontiers grant, a new 90-minute reconstructed immersive theatre version of PASSION with Tropes was presented on the stage of the Ruth M. Halls theatre in May, 2011, combining the creative talents of Robert Shakespeare (production and lighting design) and Paul Brunner (set and technology) from the Department of Theatre, digital visual artist Margaret Dolinsky, videographer Susanne Schwibs, stage director Jonathan Courtemanche and choreographer Elizabeth Shea, under the musical direction of Carmen Tellez.
New Website created by Margaret Dolinsky with supplemental views of digital art and video created for the immersive theatre production of PASSION with Tropes.
PASSION with Tropes – An Introduction
PASSION with Tropes 2010 Concert Extract
The 30-minute “Concert Extract” presented in this video with audio from IU’s Contemporary Vocal Ensemble and New Music Ensemble (and a children’s choir from St. Charles School directed by Sandra Freund) is the first hearing of a new, reduced orchestration and tightened dramatic form for the work, focusing on its closing trajectory. Christ’s final cry of “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” (My God, why have you forsaken me?) is a recurring image throughout, surrounded by multifaceted meditations, sacred and profane, on life, death, and love.
God is Love from PASSION with TropesLyrics for an existential lovesong
God is love, what / kind of love, how
could it be time and space / would embrace only me?
Love isn’t wise, isn’t knowing,/ Love can’t be sure where it’s going,
Love is a dream, finite sensation, Sheer fabrication, Blind aspiration.
Oh what a silly God, to try / to be like me, to want
to be confused, to wish / things could be better than he made them.
Love is God, who, / making man, wants
to be man so he can make God
to be loved, to be Love, and to love. Sequenza 21 Review:Don Freund’s PASSION With TropesPosted by Jeremy Podgursky
May 30, 2011
Full disclosure is necessary up front: last year I had the pleasure of studying composition with Don Freund at the Jacobs School of Music, Indiana University. Our working relationship was fruitful and inspiring, and I left his studio with new insight, skills, and quite a lot of new music. So what are some of the important things I learned from him? Passion, energy and confidence are infectious. Anything goes stylistically when instilled with passion, energy and confidence. Know thy instruments and use them with passion, energy and confidence. Take risks and don’t be afraid to fall flat on your face (with passion, energy and confidence), etc.
When one has the chance to experience the embodiment of such a laundry list in a living, breathing piece of art, the impact is much greater. So to witness the premiere of Freund’sPASSION With Tropes last weekend was truly fulfilling as a listener and a former student. Throughout the 80+ minute piece of music theater Freund’s espoused wisdom revealed itself to me in the form of “do as I say AND as I do”.
A little back story (more can be found at the link here): Freund’s PASSION was originally composed in 1983, and the revision underwent a distillation of the orchestration and re-sculpting of the narrative to direct motion towards the end of the piece. In the notes for the program, Freund describes the piece as “a theatre work about the experience of attending an oratorio (or, more specifically, a Passion)”. As far as an all-encompassing message, he suggests that PASSION “is about life as defined by suffering and love”. One of the most unique aspects of this piece is the manner in which it is told: instead of a linear narrative Freund opted to create a collage of musings by over forty poets, philosophers and playwrights for the libretto. Presented in almost a cut-up method, strands of Nietzsche flow into Beckett, Shakespeare segues to Sartre, and Vonnegut morphs into Dostoevsky, all of which are interspersed with actual liturgical text. The “…With Tropes” in the title takes on two meanings, with a trope as a word or expression used figuratively as well as the embellishment of parts of the Mass via insertion of a musical phrase.
The premiere of the 2011 version of PASSION took place at the Ruth N. Halls Theater at Indiana University-Bloomington to a packed house. It was such a multi-faceted production that it required participation between four university departments as well as support from the New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities and the Institute of Digital Arts and Humanities at Indiana University. The orchestration was for a 20-person orchestra, members of the IU Contemporary Vocal Ensemble (as well as various combinations of soloists), and a children’s choir from the local St. Charles School. There were also dancers and actors from other departments at IU to enhance the drama and action, as well as visuals (animation and still images) and stage direction provided by talented local and faculty artists. The audience was seated in four sections on the stage, surrounded by choirs as dancers and actors walked down the aisles from all angles.
One of the most fascinating aspects of PASSION is how organically and effortlessly Freund’s narrative flows. I’ve experienced the same seamless unfolding in films by masters such as Fellini, Greenaway and Godard and the effect is mesmerizing. In PASSION, ghosts of medieval chant ingeniously morph into what could be a Staple Singers number followed by a modernist orchestral texture. The musical language is always stylistically supportive of the text, with the collage-like arrangement enhancing the sense of time travel. Although some chosen texts only appear as one-off segments, Freund created multiple continuities as other texts and their musical counterparts return and progress at different points throughout the piece. The overall effect is almost as if someone is changing the channels to watch several different things at once. Lesser composers would have had a hard time succeeding with such a narrative; Freund’s technical skills and fluency in multiple musical dialects enabled an unhindered flow throughout the intense, 80+ minute journey. The staging of certain dramatic scenes (i.e. Waiting for Godot and King Lear) provided repose and release from the scored texts, showcasing the bare sound of the human voice and the graceful motions of the dancers. And the on-stage seating enabled the attendees to be surrounded by the visuals, sounds and motions of all of the performers, thus enhancing the immersing nature of the production.
For those unfamiliar with the Jacobs School of Music, the performers here generally range from fantastic to amazing. The chamber orchestra and Contemporary Vocal Ensemble handled their duties with finesse, poise, and expertise, never overbearing and always adapting effortlessly to whatever was asked of them. The children’s choir probably melted some hearts, lending a sense of innocence and unconditional love to the performance, and the actors and dancers performed with elegance and grace. With all of these different factors contributing to the success of the piece, enough praise cannot be bestowed upon conductor Carmen-Helena Tellez. With so many different elements at play, her understanding of the score, restraint and self-assurance were evident throughout.
And with such a convincing performance it is necessary to acknowledge the masterful score that facilitated it. Freund’s ingenuity, creativity, and command of his craft were on display, leaving no doubt that he is an artist of the highest level and that PASSION is a high-water mark of a fecund career. It is a bold, imaginative, risky work full of brilliant orchestration, color, heart and soul. Judging by the tangible sentiment in the room, Freund’s passion, energy and confidence worked wonders.
Music Review: Passion with Tropes
Passion story one of many voices, sources
By Peter Jacobi Herald Times Reviewer | firstname.lastname@example.org
May 23, 2011
Two words fixed themselves in my mind as I experienced a performance Friday evening of “Passion with Tropes,” composed by Don Freund and realized by talents of consequence and varying persuasions: ambitious and demanding.
For Freund, it was certainly an ambitious project, one he describes as a “theater work about the experience of attending an oratorio (or, more specifically, a Passion).” For those who sang/acted/danced their way through the happenings on stage of Indiana University’s Ruth N. Halls Theater, what they undertook was, again most certainly, demanding.
Were one to properly credit everyone involved, just their names and responsibilities could fill the space reserved for this review. Music director and conductor Carmen Helena Tellez explained in program notes that the “immersive and interactive performance was born out of many years of preliminary experiences by all the participating artists.”
Those artists stretched from Freund and Tellez in the Jacobs School of Music to premier lighting designer Robert Shakespeare from the department of theater and drama, along with second lighting designer Chris Wood; digital artist Margaret Dolinsky from the Hope School of Fine Arts; Susanne Schwibs, filmmaker at IU Radio and Television Services; Elizabeth Shea, director of the university’s contemporary dance program; art scholar Marianne Kielian-Gilbert; stage director Jonathan Courtemanche, a post-graduate student in theater and drama, and, of course, the necessary performers.
The uninterrupted 80-minute musical spectacle tells once again the story of the Crucifixion, what led to it and what happened thereafter. In April, music devotees had opportunities to hear other versions of the Passion, the quietly eloquent 17th century “Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross,” by the German Heinrich Schutz, and the somber, chant-dominated 1982 “Passio,” by the Estonian Arvo Paert.
Freund’s approach is something else again. The title he uses, “Passion with Tropes,” offers a clue, “trope” referring, as the dictionary says, to both a “literary or rhetorical device used in other than its literal sense” and a “phrase, sentence or verse interpolated in a liturgical text to amplify or embellish.” He has devised and interpolated massively with words and music.
The non-Biblical add-ons come from such sources as philosophers Friederich Nietzsche and Soren Kirkegaard; French poets and writers including the Catholic polemicist Charles Peguy and existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre; from “He Died in Detroit,” by the African-American poet Etheridge Knight, and “Slaughterhouse Five,” by Indiana’s Kurt Vonnegut. New England poet Anne Sexton and additional American poets (Robert Bly, Allen Ginsberg), the German Rainer Maria Rilke, the Russian Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Shakespeare, among others, are quoted or have their words set to music.
Throughout, the theme involves the human struggle to survive, the tragedy of defeat and loss, the triumph over suffering on the cross and off, the power of sacrifice and love, the gift of redemption.
Freund’s impressive music reinforces his chameleon talent to voice his musical thoughts in all sorts of styles. One heard a riveting amalgam of chant, pop songs, operatic arias, very contemporary choral effusions, and an orchestral language that crossed borders of time and fashions. Everything seemed suitable for the chosen moments and the whole.
And everything in this production was heard and seen from on stage of the Ruth N. Halls Theater. The auditorium was blocked off. Attendees sat in four sections of folding chairs, about 30 or so in each. Constantly shifting and invigorating visuals were projected from two huge screens, one covering what is normally the rear of the stage, the other hugging the curtain. In front of those screens, in aisles and at the center, performers sang and danced as they portrayed the characters of the biblical story and the tales told by the authors Freund had chosen for his libretto.
One could argue an inclusion here and there, but Freund put together a remarkably vigorous, sometimes harrowing and often deeply moving collage that his production colleagues then effectively built upon.
The large cast of performers — including an orchestral ensemble of 20, vocal soloists and members of the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, and the choir from St. Charles School — gave their apparent all. One should mention two striking dancers, Joe Musiel and Laura Hunter; their brief scene of the dead Jesus draped over his mother’s lap was simply stunning. Baritones Howard Swyers and Zachary Coates and tenor Nicholas Fitzer carried out particularly important vocal obligations. Henry McDaniel handled the “Howl” scene from “King Lear,” carrying Lear’s dead daughter Cordelia, most powerfully.