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Improvement: An Opera for Television

News & Reviews

  • Robert Ashley, Pioneering Opera Composer, Dies at 83

    Robert Ashley, the American composer, has died at the age of 83. Ashley, whose piece Improvement: An Opera for Television was released on Nonesuch Records in 1992, died at his home in New York from complications of cirrhosis of the liver on March 3, 2014. "Before there was Spalding Gray or Laurie Anderson or the 1980s," wrote the critic Josef Woodard, "there was Robert Ashley, the composer who dissected speech, envisioned television opera, and concocted a new kind of musical-theatrical experience." Ashley finished his last opera, Crash, in December 2013; it will premiere at the 2014 Whitney Museum Biennial, April 10–13, 2014.

About this Album

“Before there was Spalding Gray or Laurie Anderson or the 1980s, there was Robert Ashley, the composer who dissected speech, envisioned television opera, and concocted a new kind of musical-theatrical experience,” writes critic Josef Woodard in describing the strikingly original work of Robert Ashley.

Ashley’s 90-minute oratorio-like piece Improvement premiered in New York in 1991 and was featured in festivals in Berlin and Paris. With a narrative that equates contemporary characters with settings and events from Spain in 1492, Ashley layers levels of reality through the use of vocalists who alternately speak, sing, and declaim his original text.

Ashley’s music, largely electronic and ambient, sets up atmospheres that are by turns arresting and hypnotic. The performers featured on the recording established themselves as champions of Ashley’s oeuvre and have toured with the composer throughout the US and Europe.

Credits

MUSICIANS
Linda: Jacqueline Humbert
Don, Mr. Payne, Linda’s Companion: Thomas Buckner
Now Eleanor: Joan La Barbara
Junior, Jr.: Sam Ashley
The Doctor: Adam Klein
Mr. Payne’s Mother: Amy X Neuburg
The Narrator: Robert Ashley

Singers on “Tarzan” (disc 2, track 2) are from the Sanuma and Ye-kuana tribes of Venezuela (verses 1, 5); from the Dominican Republic (verse 2); and from Haiti (verses 3, 4). The Sanuma singer, "Alehandro" (his Spanish name), is a master singer in his village. The Ye-kuana singer Matias
Fortunado helped in directing the Sanuma and Ye-kuana singers.

PRODUCTION CREDITS
Produced by David Rosenboom and Robert Ashley
Disc 2, track 2 recorded and produced by Sam Ashley.Verses 1, 5 recorded near Rio Paragua, Venezuela; verse 2 in Rio San Juan, Dominican Republic; verses 3, 4 in Port au Prince, Haiti
All other voices recorded by Tom Erbe at the Center for Contemporary Music, Mills College, Oakland, CA
Final mixing done by Tom Hamilton at 10 Beach Street, New York
Disc 1 (except tracks 1, 9, 11) voices and rhythm orchestra mixed by Tom Erbe
Disc 1, tracks 1, 9, 11, and disc 2 voices and rhythm orchestra mixed by Tom Hamilton
Additional orchestra parts for disc 1 programmed by Sam Ashley
Additional orchestra parts for final mix designed and programmed by Robert Ashley and Tom Hamilton
Digital editing and mastering by Allan Tucker, Foothill Productions, New York, NY

Music and libretto by Robert Ashley
Libretto edited by Mimi Johnson

Design by James Victore Design Works
Cover photograph by Robert Cavalli

Executive Producer: David Bither

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