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The whisper opera is the latest immersive music experience to hit NYC

the Whisper Opera
Photograph: Courtesy Armen Elliott

As the staged work visits NYU’s Skirball Center, we explain what to expect from the whisper opera.

What’s this thing about anyway?
David Lang’s the whisper opera is just what it sounds like: an opera where the performers whisper instead of sing. They will strain to be heard over the International Contemporary Ensemble’s two flutes, two clarinets, two cellos and a piano, which will be onstage with the singers—as will a small audience of about 30 lucky listeners.

Erm, will I be able to hear if they’re whispering?
You probably won’t catch everything, but that’s kind of the point. Lang created the libretto using predictive text from internet searches (e.g., “When I am alone, I always…”). The whispered phrases will hover and dissipate, only to be replaced by variations on the theme.

The audience is small because they’re whispering, I get that. But why do they need a big room like NYU’s Skirball Center?
Without giving too much away, let’s just say that while they won’t use the entire building’s footprint, the vertical space is still very much up for grabs.

So why do I want to go hear a whispered opera, anyway?
You might not, but you’ll be in rare company: Except for a single staging at the 2013 Mostly Mozart Festival for an audience of about 30, these 13 performances will be the only times the piece has been heard in New York. Lang is one of contemporary classical music’s busiest, most creative minds and director Jim Findlay, who just wrapped a new stage adaptation of synthesizer pioneer Bruce Haack’s The Electric Lucifer at the Kitchen, is sure to bring dynamics to the silence.

David Lang’s the whisper opera is at the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts January 24–February 4 (nyuskirball.org). $75.

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