Performed by the Hyoid Ensemble: Gelsey Bell, Christie Finn, Amirtha Kidambi, Megan Schubert, Fabienne Séveillac, and cellist Émilie Girard-Charest.
Directed by Jeremy Bloom.
Notes on Sextuor by Fabienne Séveillac
Until now, George Aperghis’ Sextuor had not been premiered on the East Coast despite a growing knowledge in the U.S. of his vocal compositions (for instance, the famous Recitations for female voice written in 1978). Soprano Donatienne Michel-Dansac has been performing Aperghis’ music for more than twenty years and is one of the original performers of Sextuor. Having studied with her in the Acanthes academy in 2009, I was exposed to many of his works and, convinced of Sextuor’s extraordinary singularity, I decided that the work should be presented in New York.
Last summer, two of the ensemble members and I had the chance to work with Michel-Dansac during the Darmstadt summer courses on sections from Sextuor. I also had the honor to sit down with Aperghis and discuss at length his ideas about the piece, which have greatly informed our interpretation and staging.
While commissioning a libretto from François Régnault based on Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (who added additional texts by Stephen J. Gould), Aperghis composed Sextuor between 1992 and 1993 after a year-long workshop with five female singers. Adding the cello part and finalizing a number of sequences in rehearsal, the score was not finished until the very day of the premiere at the Théâtre des Amandiers, Nanterre, France.
The piece is structured around a succession of ensembles and solos in a narrative system similar to an oratorio. Its main topic is the evolution of species, with recitatives and arias articulated around clear universal symbols, such as “Death” (Contralto), “Birth” (Soprano I), “Delivery” (Soprano II), “Cinderella” (Mezzo-soprano), and the “Experience of Love” (Soprano III). With humans as the species marked by the distinction of telling its own story, Sextuor is an origin myth for contemporary modern life – abundant with scientific facts, philosophical quandaries, and the common experiences of every woman.
Régnault adds that "In the libretto’s parts written in phonemes (…) the specific associations via dental, palatal, plosive, sibilant, velar, labial-velar etc. were intended to evoke all animal species. Not so much their cries but their noises, even less their noises than the analog sounds they evoke: the scraping or rattling of the artropodes, viscosities of the molluscs, aquatic resonances of sea cucumbers, and frictions of the amphibians and reptiles, etc., until the human speech, which is simply one (last?) stage".