Classical Music

Watch Missy Mazzoli’s new opera, The Listeners – SlippediscSlippedisc

norman lebrecht

November 12, 2022

This week’s free opera on Slipped Disc, courtesy of OperaVision, comes from Norwegian National Opera.

The Plot: Maths teacher Claire hears a mysterious low-frequency noise and the pollution is driving her crazy. The constant ‘hum’ drives her away from her family and towards others who also hear the same all-consuming sound. This support group offers compassion but what lies behind their cult-like rituals?

Missy Mazzoli and Royce Vavrek’s new opera is a thriller about social rejection, the abuse of power and echo chambers.   Based on an original story by Jordan Tannahill, The Listeners is inspired by an identified phenomenon, the ‘global hum’. Grammy-nominated Mazzoli was the first woman to be commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and has already successfully collaborated with librettist Vavrek, with whom she wrote the opera Breaking the Waves.

Co-commissioned and co-produced with Opera Philadelphia and Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Listeners is streamed from the iconic Norwegian National Opera in Oslo as part of the Ultima Contemporary Music Festival. Here is an opera for our times about our search for belonging, understanding the incomprehensible, and how charismatic leaders can exploit our longing for connection.   The opera is conducted Ilan Volkov and directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz.  The part of Claire is sung by Nicole Heaston and Howard Bard by Simon Neal and Kyle Harris by Eirik Grøtvedt. The opera is sung in English with subtitles in English and Norwegian.

The Listeners follows Claire, a suburban high school teacher living in the southwestern United States. Her life spirals out of control when she begins to hear a mysterious low-frequency hum. The Hum keeps her awake at night and threatens her sanity, but she finds an ally in Kyle, a student who also hears the all-consuming noise. When Kyle discovers a group that meets regularly in hopes of understanding and eliminating the source of the Hum, Claire is optimistic that this might be a turning point in her crisis. The group is led by the charismatic Howard Bard and his second-in-command Angela, who provide a compassionate environment for the beleaguered Claire and Kyle.

As the group grows in number, the meetings devolve into strange, ritualistic behaviour. When former soldier Dillon is expelled from the group after suggesting that the noise is a government conspiracy, he attempts to shoot down a mobile phone tower. He is arrested and criminal attention is placed on Howard and the cult of Listeners. The group explodes when it is revealed that Howard has abused his power and manipulated the members. Claire, armed with newfound confidence, picks up the pieces in an effort to harness the power of the Hum.

Available on 12 November from 1900 CET/ 1800 London/ NY 1300

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