Camilla Tassi

Proposal/Plan for Research Year 2018-2019 under Wendall Harrington

Soprano     &     Designer                      •   Bio •   Please view on DESKTOP, not mobile optimized

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(performance, design, direct, translation)

Goal: The musician-designer, reclaiming a lost layer with classical repertoire  [link]

Specialty: Classical music, particularly Italian baroque repertoire as a performer, translator, designer, and director.

Contents: Purpose | Potential Projects/Applications | Courses | Why here?

Audiovisual approaches are increasingly present in the classical concert hall and non-staged music avenues. Musician-designers should be trained to confront genres of presentation in both the theatrical (opera and staged approaches) and non-traditionally staged contexts.

Potential Projects/Applications:


Designing for:

- the recital:


- the oratorio








- the choral/large ensemble concert

         Can be similar to the recital context in containing various small narratives in one performance. 







- installation/sound art

- solo design+performance experiments

Composed as a non-staged work, but includes a large and unifying narrative and named characters. A hybrid child of opera and the recital/concerted performance. How does one design for a performance where there typically is no physical movement/staging, but where the focus is the orchestra and choir/soloists? This is a bit closer to theater.

Relevant example: Carissimi's "Jepthe", Mendelssohn's "Elijah", Handel's "Messiah". My current project of a multimedia Jepthe, with color corresponding to key areas/harmonic motion and properties of light assigned to vocal lines of solo characters. Aix-en-Provence festival's 2016 attempt at staging and using video for oratorio. We see a lot more staging of oratorio than attempts at keeping the form but employing visual media. Unita` C1's "L'amor che move il sole e le altre stelle" is a fantastic example. Labeled an opera, but more oratorio-like (stationary performers, unifying narrative).

Application: working alongside a Yale ensemble or producing my own oratorio casting local singers (I have an active history of producing/leading classical productions).

But with some exciting possibilities - how do you tackle having a large # of performers visually present? Highlighting melodic motion among voice parts, homophonic vs. more polyphonic sections, visualizing frequencies/timbre, tying in the architecture of a space, etc.

Relevant example: Beth Morrison Production's The Hubble Cantata

Application: when I visited in October I met with a friend of mine in the Yale Camerata. She encouraged me to join as a singer and was particularly interested in doing an experiment with projections and in the choir's performances. Of course, I'm particularly excited in the latter as many of the MFA students, because of their huge commitments and various interests, don't get to interact with musical ensembles as much. I also have a friend in the Voxtet that expressed interest in an audiovisual collaboration with the Votext or Recital Choir.

In installations one can also explore spatialization and dissect aspects of music. Janet Cardiff's famous Spem in Alium (with each speaker sounding one of the 40 vocal parts that one can arrange and walk among). I've explored this when I created the 'voice pyramid' and recorded myself singing individual parts of a 4-part motet, each fed through a speaker I could control and alter - EQ, timbre, reverb, volume for each of the tracks, messing with balance and performing from inside the pyramid live.With my growing love of visual (currently reading Albers' Interaction of Color post taking lighting design), I am curious about doing experiments in timbre-color associations, beyond Scriabin's color organ, visualizing retrograde inversions, visualizing fugal entrances and developments.

Another potential application is that of the solo performance piece for analyzing aspects of larger scale works. For example, I've wanted to analyze the da capo aria (with form ABA), characterized by the musical material of the A section coming back, but ornamented, found especially in baroque opera. 

Application: theatrically presenting an aria where I record myself as both characters, incorporation of both live and recorded performance elements (I would also record my own accompaniment playing). I have a written plan for the Handel Giulio Cesare Aria "Son nata a lagrimar" and presenting it. Of course, I prefer collaborating (one of my favorite aspects of working in the opera context at festivals), but I believe solo experimental work to be valid ground for testing and presenting ideas (and time efficient, considering the mixture of collaborative and individual projects).


Design: Projection design (DRAM 334-354), Advanced media production DRAM 354b,

DRAM 234a/b Visual storytelling, and any you'd recommend

Music:  Text, form, and narrative in programmatic music MUS 547a, The 21st century recital MUS 653b (seems amazing!), Dramatic movement for singers 504a-b, Early music repertoire for singers MUS 549a

Theater management: The artistic director's role DRAM 411(41), Managing the production process DRAM 191b, (lesser: Tessitura 1 DRAM 411(30), Law and the arts DRAM 141b)

solo or chamber, often various genres, time periods, and languages within one performance.               

This is the traditional performance degree recital. How does one tackle designing for many languages and compositional styles in one program? For a set-less presentation? 

Relevant example: Joyce DiDonato's "In War & Peace" recital tour, compilation

of baroque repertoire from multiple composers with the incorporation of projections, currently

nominated for a Grammy.

Application: working with a YSM/ISM student and designing for their performance

recital, doing an in-depth musical analysis of the rep chosen and potentially designing for the

whole program or for specific sets. Moving beyond projection as setting, potentially tackling

translation presentation etc. Looking at harmonic motion, etc. 

Courses (auditing, to choose from)

I would love to audit/take courses if possible, I took a look at past course bulletins for Design, Music, and Theater Management. Below are a list of courses that piqued my interest. Of course, it is dependent on what courses are offered and how many I can audit - it would be nice to audit four courses (I wish for even more, but it's dependent on the ability of being able to balance research work and those, we can discuss). Above all, I am most excited to have *you* as a mentor to talk about many of these subjects, particularly on the projection end! NOTE: we don't even know if it's possible for me to audit across schools, so I understand.


In a next draft I can provide a timeline, any recommendation letters/materials, etc. and more.

Some fun links below:

Moral of the story/why Yale research: I have a strong background as a classical musician (singer, harpsichordist/pianist, conductor, opera scenes director, etc.) and I am in the process of wanting to create a stronger design self too. In taking lighting design, set design, stage managing, etc. I fell in love with theater and in my gigs as a projection designer I became passionate about wanting to dedicate my work to the presentation, recontextualization, and design for classical music, particularly baroque repertoire. I started producing/directing performances and creating with little to no budget or resources (ex: my Carissimi production in the Hop Garage). In a sense, you're the mentor I can't believe is real and Yale has tremendous resources both in theater/design AND early music. An ideal program would be a design/production concentration in a classical music department/school, which currently does not exist.... Which is why this approximates a creation of it!

Disclaimer 1: Just because these modes of presentation are not theatrical in the same ways as opera, it does not mean they should not function as narratives. This is a danger with classical repertoire, merely re-producing the sounds/treating them like museum pieces and not questioning them does NOT allow for this repertoire to truly live and be passed down.

Disclaimer 2: Designing for classical repertoire does not always mean adding media layers to the music just for the sake of 'spicing it up'. It's obvious when it's done in that manner. Or the visual should not try to merely present what is already obvious in the music, but instead should try to provide an insight to the compositional process, to the 'less obvious' layers, to the references, etc. Example: Robert Wilson's staging of Bach's St. John Passion and Peter Sellars' staging/ritualization of the St. Matthew Passion. Sellars' work does not employ a set or costume, but it is in the use of space and movement of the performers that he created a representation that becomes alive and relatable to today's audience. Moral: more isn't better, it's about intent. And not all performance should incorporate visuals/projections - yet, there is much that needs to be explored and done in terms of design applied to music. In a sense, classical music needs to learn from today's theater schools.

Thank you!

©2020 Camilla Tassi

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