Diane et Acteon: A metaphysical drama in one act, for four performers and automatic instruments
Sack, William H.
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Diane et Actéon is a one-act chamber opera based on the story of Diana and Actaeon from Ovid's Metamorphoses as re-imagined by Pierre Klossowski in his study Le Bain de Diane. The music is scored for four performers: soprano, flute, oboe, and cello; in addition, there are a number of autonomous robotic instruments which function as the opera's "continuo" or "ritornello" accompaniment. The opera is not conventionally staged, but rather acted out by robotic elements which display, in a general and symbolic way, the characters, relationships, and actions contained in the drama. The mise en scene for the work is informed by the "scientific spectacle" of the late Renaissance polymath Athanasius Kircher, a Jesuit who succeeded Galileo as the Vatican court scientist and is one of the pivotal figures in what is now called the "Scientific Revolution." In a similar way, the opera's music is modeled after a fragment of an imaginary early Venetian opera or intermezzo by a fictitious contemporary of the composers Cavalli and Monteverdi. Operas from this period frequently used Ovid's retellings of Greek and Roman myths as the basis for their dramas. Rather than a single straightforward narrative, Diane et Actéon is formed of a certain number of retellings of the same story from different perspectives. This is the approach to the myth taken by Klossowski in his book. The work's libretto is composed from many sources, from the Latin text of the Metamorphoses themselves to an early seventeenth century text on the preferred techniques used to stage intermezzi. The source texts are combined, obscured or extended by poetic techniques associated with the "Language poetry" movement. The autonomous, quasi-robotic instruments are simple mechanical sound-producers controlled by small interconnected microprocessors. Each of the microprocessors is programmed with a unique set of instructions and the "score" for the mechanical part of the piece is stored in the form of firmware code on the chips themselves. Both the hardware controllers and the firmware that runs them are custom-made by the author for this application.