Violet Fire, Multimedia Opera About Electricity Pioneer Nikola Tesla, Opens at BAM | Playbill

Classic Arts News Violet Fire, Multimedia Opera About Electricity Pioneer Nikola Tesla, Opens at BAM
Though half-forgotten by many today, Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) was in his heyday nearly as famous as Thomas Edison. He discovered alternating current (thus making possible the modern electrical grid), hydroelectric power and wireless transmission (which led to both radio and remote control). In fact, he had more than 700 patents, including several for basic computer circuits. (This was before 1900, mind you.)
To honor this year's sesquicentennial of Tesla's birth, music, theater and visual artists from Tesla's ancestral homeland (Serbia) and his adopted country (the US) have developed a new multimedia opera about the visionary inventor.

Violet Fire received its world premiere on Tesla's actual birthday, July 9, at the National Theater of Belgrade; the work gets its full-scale US premiere this week at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. There will be three performances of the one-act opera: tonight, Friday and Saturday (Oct. 20 and 21) at 7:30 pm at BAM's Howard Gilman Opera House.

The score of Violet Fire, which calls for six soloists, full choir and chamber orchestra, is by longtime Philip Glass Ensemble member Jon Gibson; fiction writer and art critic Miriam Seidel, who is curator of the art galleries at the Gershman Y in Philadelphia, wrote the libretto. The staging is by Terry O'Reilly, one of the artistic directors of the famed experimental theater troupe Mabou Mines, with sets and costumes by leading Serbian theater designer Boris Caksiran.

Of the opera's workshop presentation at Philadelphia Temple University in 2004, The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns wrote, "Undulating arpeggios repeated endlessly, creating an otherworldly musical environment ... High-strung rhythms pulsed through instrumental texture like electricity. Vocal leaps erupted like power surges. Rhythmic counterpoint juxtaposed steady electrical pulse against something as irregular as Morse code." His colleague Peter Dobrin found that "the narrative structure of the opera is smartly conceived ... Gibson and librettist Miriam Seidel created characters who sing intelligibly, and with texts that are emotionally meaningful."

Information on and tickets for Violet Fire are available at

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