A decade after David Lynch’s Lost Highway first baffled and mesmerized cinephiles worldwide, the controversial film is about to receive a premiere of a different kind. On February 8th, 2007, the Oberlin Conservatory of Music (OCM) will unveil to American audiences the latest work by award-winning, 38-year-old Austrian composer, Olga Neuwirth: Lost Highway, the opera.
A 90-minute fusillade of the 135-minute film, Lost Highway the opera transforms the tensely silent screenplay into a genre-gliding composition alight and seething with sound. The forthcoming U.S. premiere will be a unique collaborative production of the OCM Division of Contemporary Music, featuring performances by the acclaimed Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, original video footage by the Oberlin production crew, live electronics, and a vibrant and daring cast drawn from all corners of the Oberlin College student body.
Lost Highway is the second project that Neuwirth (pronounced NOY-veert) has completed with 2004 Nobel Prize-winning novelist Elfriede Jelinek. “I consider Lost Highway one of the key works in the history of cinema,” said Jelinek in an interview for the New York Times. “When I saw the film for the first time, it was like a blow to my brain stem, a real physical sensation. It’s pretty much impossible to translate an artwork like this into another genre. But musical theater is possible, because, like film, it is another way of playing with time flow.”
Lost Highway the film centers around Fred Madison, an ardent jazz saxophonist deeply troubled by the closed world of his beautiful but glacial wife, Renee. Tormented by eerie, anonymous videotapes and nightmarish encounters with a macabre Mystery Man, Fred’s sanity finally breaks upon his suspicion of an extramarital affair, and he murders Renee horrendously. The shock of the event triggers an extravagant psychological shift. Leaving his stark, film noir reality behind, Fred enters a vivid reinvention of his life with Renee. He becomes dashing young auto mechanic Pete Dayton who is seduced by impetuous and white-hot Alice, mistress of the most powerful mobster in town.
From its genesis, the creation of Lost Highway has been steeped in its own ethos of unorthodox mergings, and its operatic U.S. premiere will more than see this ethos through. Lynch’s film deals in memory and time, reality and fantasy, desire that transcends all barriers. It is also a work of doubles and distortions, of splits where there ought to be wholes, and elisions where there ought to be boundaries.
Lynch’s collaboration with screenwriter Barry Gifford has been dramatically adapted once by Neuwirth (pronounced NOY-veert) and Jelinek. This February, layered upon that will be the combined efforts of 60 Oberlin faculty and students to create Lost Highway on the operatic stage, merging present sound with sound replayed, present sight with the celluloid subconscious.
Strickland Gardner Professor of Music Timothy Weiss will conduct the award-winning Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, with stage direction and sound design provided respectively by Jonathan Field, Director of Oberlin Opera Theater, and Tom Lopez, chair of the TIMARA (Technology in Music and Related Arts) program. The producer of Lost Highway is Professor of Composition Lewis Nielson, Chair of the Composition Department and Director of the Contemporary Music Division.
From screaming soliloquy to haunting chant, electronic phantasmagoria to acoustic balm, Neuwirth’s Lost Highway reaches constantly for the sublime. A trailblazer of the avant-garde, Neuwirth coaxes a voice that is passionate yet self-aware, raw yet powerfully crafted. It is a voice that embodies the grasping intensity and self-reflection of our age.
“How can you draw people in, making it impossible for them to escape from listening?” asks Neuwirth. “It’s so hard in our times to listen. But I never want to make music very clear. It must always be a riddle. There is never a theme you can easily latch onto. A different kind of psychology is happening, one of not knowing what is going on.”
Lost Highway will be staged in Finney Chapel on the Oberlin College campus Thursday through Saturday, February 8 through 10, 2007, at 8 p.m. The work then travels to New York City for two 8 p.m. performances at the Miller Theatre on Friday, February 23, and Saturday, February 24.
Tickets for the Oberlin production of Lost Highway are required, and are $5 for the general public or free for those with an Oberlin College I.D. Call Oberlin’s Central Ticket Service, located in the lobby of Hall Auditorium, at 440-775-8169 or 1-800-371-0178. Seating is general admission. Finney Chapel is wheelchair accessible and is located on the southwest corner of Lorain St. (Route 511) and N. Professor St., across from Tappan Square.
Reserved-seat tickets for the Miller Theatre production are $35 and can be purchased by calling the Miller Theatre’s box office at 212-854-7799. The Miller Theatre is located on the Columbia University campus at 2960 Broadway (at 116th Street), New York, New York.
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