Tina Chang on Dark Sisters
Tina Chang is the Assistant Conductor and Principal Répétiteur for VO’s production of Dark Sisters. We’ve asked her a few questions about what it’s like to work on this exciting piece.
What are the challenges in rehearsing the Dark Sisters?
I find the background, the history and what we hear even just recently on the news, very much the most difficult part in preparing this work.
We lump together all the violence we might expect to hear and see into just one little word: abuse. But the truth is much more graphic, much more violent, more manipulative, more gnarly – and all controlled like puppets on a string through the hypnotic actions of a man whose mind is so brilliantly twisted. Brilliant because he has women following him fervently, and being treated like cattle, and who are all grateful for any amount of acknowledgement from him. A man who is so revered that he is almost God; and that these women indeed see him as such: The Prophet who is more than your average prophet. There is no alternative. This is the way of life. They live, and they breathe this life. Anything that counters this idea, anything that is construed as disobedience (by the Prophet), will ensure a life less than great in the life after death. So for now they live through all this, festering and fostering the non-stop competition with and against the other sister wives in a race to gain a greater place in Heaven. To these women, suffrage is beautiful.
So, to us global citizens of today, while this type of faith may be admirable, the cost at which these women endure is something that cannot begin to describe what ‘heartbreaking’ means. This purity that they see against the stunning backdrop of nature, we see as naiveté enclosed within themselves, unable to achieve enlightenment.
In short, while I find it very hard to swallow as I glimpse into the world of these women, the trick is to find a way to not make any judgement of these women. They don’t need our pity. In fact, they would probably pity us because we are all going to hell in their eyes. I imagine that there will be lots of discussion involved to pitch every action as beautiful against a beautiful backdrop. Puppies, rainbows, kittens. Puppies, rainbows, kittens.
How is this piece different from traditional opera?
For this particular piece, the basic fundamentals of singing and playing are all there. Everything falls in the realm of “normal.” There are no extended vocal or instrumental techniques. The difference that is probably the most notable would be the use of changing meters (but even that is not very complicated: mostly simple meters), and some use of poly-rhythms. 5:4, or 7:3.
However, I would say the most difficult is that the piece is very contrapuntally written in many places – which makes sense. While all the women are supposed to act as a unit, each of them have their own individual thoughts and wants. But these then are probably some of the hardest places to put together. You have to listen, and not listen at all, because it would be so easy to be thrown off course.
What do you find special about this piece?
What I mentioned above: the contrapuntal nature of the piece. However, being contrapuntal, they all still lead right back to the same place, that which is the Prophet and the children. It’s like they all walk on different parts of the same road to get to the same place, with the exception of the two characters who diverge from this.
Do you have a favourite aria or musical moment in this opera? Maybe ‘favourite’ is not the right word to use, because every part of this opera makes me want to go shake some sense (reality as I know it) into the characters. But probably the most creepy part for me are all the places where hymns are sung against a process that is undoubtedly sinister. “Love at home” literally takes on a very different meaning.
Any other interesting facts or stories you’d like to share?
This is a show that, because of its currency, really makes you think. The practices of this sect have by no means ended. You cannot forbid someone to practice what they deem their religion. These women aren’t hurting anyone else. So, while it is completely within their rights to practice their religion, you wonder, would they have thought differently had they been more open-minded about the world? How can you be open-minded about the world, when, the moment you are, you are condemned to hell after death?
Find out more about Dark Sisters here
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Author: Vancouver Opera
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