Mila, Great Sorcerer
 
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Music by Andrea Clearfield
Libretto by Jean-Claude van Itallie & Lois Walden

 
 
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mila, great sorcerer

Folk hero, singer, and spiritual teacher, Milarepa has been venerated for one thousand years. But as a child, directed by his mother, he wields black magic against the aunt and uncle that stole his inheritance, and destroys his entire village. His remorse sends him on a life journey from mass murder to enlightenment. Set to lush orchestration melding Eastern and Western sounds, his transformation and redemption into the most revered teacher of Tibetan Buddhism offer hope and spiritual wayfinding to all who regret acts of consequence and seek higher ground.
 
 

synopsis


act i

Monks and Villagers climb the holy mountain to plead with their teacher, Mila, to tell them the story of his amazing life. On the way up the mountain Deities join the Villagers and Monks. Together, they re-enact Mila’s life. Mila is born into a rich merchant’s family. When Mila is seven, his father dies, leaving Mila and his mother in care of Mila’s cruel aunt and uncle who enslave them. When Mila turns fifteen, Mother begs Uncle and Aunt to give Mila his inheritance. Uncle and Aunt throw Mila and Mother out of the house. Mother, craving revenge, cajoles Mila into entering Sorcery Training Camp to learn Black Arts. At Sorcery Training Camp, Sorcerer trains Mila in hate and long distance killing. Using his Sorcerer’s tools Mila destroys Uncle’s house, killing thirty-five wedding guests Mother wants more revenge, so Mila destroys the Village’s entire barley crop. Mila barely escapes the Villagers’ fury.


act ii

Back at Sorcery Camp, because of the violence he has committed, Mila suffers from post traumatic stress. Sorcerer tells Mila of a great teacher, Marpa, who might help him redeem his soul. As Mila sets out to find Marpa, Marpa and his wife Damema dream that a wonderful student is coming. Mila finds a farmer plowing a field. He ask the farmer where Marpa lives. The farmer, who is Marpa, but does not reveal his identity, tells Mila to finish plowing the field, and then come to the farm house. When Mila enters the farm house, he discovers who Marpa is, and asks for teachings. Marpa tells Mila that in payment for teachings Mila must build him a round house made of stones. Before Mila can finish the round house, Marpa demands a triangular house, then he changes his mind again and again, making Mila’s work harder and harder, building and unbuilding houses. Damema, taking pity on Mila, gives him a big turquoise stone to pay for Marpa’s teachings. But Marpa recognizes Damema’s turquoise and refuses to teach Mila. Mila, desperate, is about to kill himself. Marpa stops him, calls him his heart son, and agrees to teach Mila meditation. Mila dreams he visits his old home, finds it in ruins and in it his mother’s bones. He awakens, and leaves Marpa and Damema. He rushes home only to find his dream was true. Mila climbs a mountain, vowing to meditate until he reaches enlightenment. He is visited by a seductive female Nightmare dressed in red. Mila resists her. Three robbers visit Mila but find nothing to steal. Demons visit Mila. They jeer at him in the voices of Mother, Uncle, and Aunt. Mila can’t chase his Demons away, so he offers them tea, so that he can continue to meditate as they live there too. Ultimately Mila’s Demons turn out to be Mila’s family played by the Deities at the opening of the opera. Marpa and Damema appear on a cloud and bless Mila. Villagers, Monks, Deities ask Mila for his blessing.

Mila blesses everyone.


 
 
 
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CREATIVE IMPETUS BEHIND THE WORK

Jean-Claude van Itallie, Librettist
As a playwright and Buddhist, for some thirty years I’ve wanted to delve into and dramatize the amazing life of Tibet’s great folk hero, singer, and daring spiritual teacher Milarepa. From the records we have of a millennium ago, he was likeable, eccentric, appealing, a popular singer with a sense of humor and a social conscience – maybe it’s not too great a stretch to call him a Bob Dylan of his day. Mila's journey of redemption is exemplary, available to apply in our own lives. What could be more useful?

Here is what I always burned to ask Mila, and that the Villagers and Monks ask in the opera: how on earth did you manage in a single lifetime to transform yourself from a teenage mass killer into a teacher/singer so good-humored and enlightened that just to be in your presence or hear about you is a blessing? Really, we need to learn how to do that. How can we change our lives and outlook when we want to? Will you teach me, at least by example? Did you have help? Who were your teachers? How hard was it?  What techniques did you use? Can I use them now a thousand years later? Can I do what you did, and if so, how?

 
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Andrea Clearfield, Composer
Milarepa’s story of extreme personal transformation is emotionally gripping, healing and hugely important in our divisive world. It is also personal to me, having had a relationship with the Tibetan plateau, the land, the people and the culture. Although elements of Tibetan ritual music and folk music inform and are woven into the fabric of Mila, Great Sorcerer, I consider this work to be an American opera.

For nearly a decade I have been engaged in documenting the music of a remote, restricted Tibetan region in the northern Nepalese Himalaya, Lo Monthang. This area, near Tibet, is not far from Milarepa’s birthplace and an area where he very likely visited.

With an anthropologist and ethnomusicologist named Katey Blumenthal, I recorded the last remaining royal court singer, Tashi Tsering. His songs had been passed down aurally for hundreds of years, but not yet documented or notated. Under the auspices of the Rubin Foundation in NYC, Blumenthal and I recorded the indigenous garglu (court) and troglu (common) folk songs of Tashi Tsering and other singers in the area, completing the recording project in 2010. Our work is part of a larger initiative to help preserve the traditions of this ancient horse culture. Our recordings are part of the University of Cambridge World Oral Literature Project, dedicated to documenting endangered languages before they disappear without record.

The treks and fieldwork led me to build a new body of creative responses. In 2008 I wrote Lung-Ta (The Windhorse) for large chamber ensemble and field recordings in collaboration with visual artist, Maureen Drdak and choreographer, Manfred Fischbeck, commissioned by Network for New Music. Lung-Ta was presented to the Dalai Lama as an initiative for world peace in 2009. Kawa Ma Gyur (The Unchanging Pillar - 2010) for chamber ensemble and treated field recordings was also commissioned and premiered by Network for New Music. Tse Go La (At the Threshold of this Life) a cantata for double chorus, chamber orchestra and digital audio incorporated some of the songs from Lo Monthang.

The work was commissioned by The Mendelssohn Club and Commonwealth Youthchoirs as a way of bringing these songs to the U.S. A grant from the American Composers Forum made it possible to involve the Tibetan community of Philadelphia in the performance and in workshop, sharing traditional Tibetan song and dance. More recently, Rabsong Shar (2016) for soprano and chamber orchestra was commissioned by The University of Arkansas. The work deals with memory, loss and change and how song can honor and help preserve a culture and its language.

As a result of these experiences and this new body of work, I was inspired and moved to create my first opera on Tibet’s most venerated yogi, Milarepa. It was certainly auspicious that after meeting Jean-Claude van Itallie at a performance of his terrific play on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, he shared that he and Lois Walden were creating a libretto on the life of Milarepa.

 
 
 
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Kevin Newbury, Director
In our current age of escalating violence and anxiety, the story of Milarepa offers a parable of redemption. In our production of Mila, Great Sorcerer, we view the  ancient legend through the lens of 21st Century America. Mila’s Tibetan village becomes a forgotten industrial town in the American West and Mila commits his acts of violence in an unnamed contemporary war using drones and other instruments of modern warfare.  Mila returns home, like so many soldiers today, haunted by what he has seen and what he has done. Jean-Claude van Itallie and Lois Walden’s focused libretto uses the language of Buddhist legend, set to Andrea Clearfield’s gorgeous Tibetan-inspired music, while the visual world of the production is thoroughly contemporary.

I envision our opera as ensemble-based, in which the entire cast transforms the space throughout the performance, reflecting Mila’s spiritual transformation.  We reframe Mila’s story in the characters that are recognizable and real to us.

What can we learn from Mila’s story?  Can violent people change? How does a soldier redeem himself after he has killed?   All of us today, Buddhist or not, are searching for some kind of inner peace and calm in the face of violence.  Mila, Great Sorcerer, is both thrilling music theatre and an antidote to the current age of anxiety.

 
 
 
 
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excerpts from the libretto

 
 

excerpt 1

MILA
NOTHING IN THE WORLD BELONGS TO ME

Startled by sound of a horse whinnying, he listens to the horse galloping.

BUT WHEN I WALK OUTSIDE
THE SKY IS MINE

Mila watches a single leaf slowly flutter to the ground.

BREATHING EVERY BREATH
A SONG TO ME
MY HEARTBEAT IS MY OWN
MY LAUGH MY CRY

Strolling in a field of barley, Mila runs his hand over the tops of the grain.

STROLLING ON THE HILLSIDE
ROLLING IN THE GRASS
WHAT MORE COULD I EVER NEED?
SINGING TO THE SUNLIGHT
PLAYING IN THE FIELD
WHAT MORE WOULD I EVER NEED?

He watches a large bird circling high in the sky.

IN JUNE WE SOW THE BARLEY SEED
JULY THE SHOOTS APPEAR
WHEN PIGEONS HIDE IN BARLEY FIELDS
WE KNOW ITS TIME TO WEED

HARVEST TIME IS WHEN THE BARLEY BURSTS

MILA (continuing)
HER GOLDEN BEAUTY
MAKES ME FEEL ALIVE
I BREW THE TEA
AND QUENCH MY MANLY THIRST
MY BARLEY BEER
IS SWEETER THAN WHEAT OR RYE
AND SO WE SOW THE BARLEY SEED
MY FAVORITE GRAIN OF ALL
WHEN I THINK ABOUT WHAT BARLEY GIVES
I LONG TO SEE THE FALL

 

excerpt ii

MARPA

BETWEEN THIS ‘N THAT
THERE’S A SILENT SONG THAT’S SINGING
RISING MOON GROWS THIN AND FAT
THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT AT ALL
GREEN LEAVES BLOWING IN THE SUMMER RAIN
TURN TO YELLOW COLORS IN THE FALL
MOURNERS WAIL AND HOWL
NEW BORN BABIES CRY AND CRY
LISTEN TO THEIR SOUND
LISTEN TO THE STILLNESS

MARPA and MILA

LISTEN TO THE STILLNESS ALL AROUND
IN THE DARK OF NIGHT
DAWNS THE QUIET LIGHT OF MORNING
BETWEEN THOUGHT AND DREAM
THE DAY IS BORN AGAIN
SNOWFLAKES KISS THE FALLOW FIELDS
WIND IS WHISPERING TO YOU
LISTEN TO THEIR SOUND
LISTEN TO THEIR SOUND
LISTEN TO THE STILLNESS ALL AROUND

 
 
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BIOGRAPHIES

 

andrea clearfield

Award-winning composer of music for orchestra, opera, chorus, chamber ensemble, dance, and multimedia collaborations. Clearfield creates deep, emotive musical languages that build cultural and artistic bridges. She has been praised by the New York Times for her “graceful tracery and lively, rhythmically vital writing”, the Philadelphia Inquirer for her “compositional wizardry” and “mastery with large choral and instrumental forces”, the L.A. Times for her “fluid and glistening orchestration” and by Opera News for her “vivid and galvanizing” music of “timeless beauty”.

Her works are performed widely in the U.S. and abroad. Among her 150 works are ten large-scale cantatas including one commissioned by The Philadelphia Orchestra. Her cantata, Tse Go La (At the threshold of this life) for double chorus and chamber orchestra and other works were inspired by her fieldwork documenting Tibetan melodies in the Himalayas. Her music is published by Boosey & Hawkes, G. Schirmer, Hal Leonard, Seeadot and International Opus. She is a recipient of a 2016 Pew Fellowship, a 2017 Independence Foundation in the Arts Fellowship, and has also held fellowships at the American Academy in Rome, the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center, The MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and the Copland House among others. Dr. Clearfield served on the composition faculty at The University of the Arts from 1986-2011. She received a DMA from Temple University where she was awarded the Presidential Fellowship and was honored as a Distinguished Alumna. She is the founder and host of the renowned Salon featuring contemporary, classical, jazz, electronic, dance, and world music since 1986.

 

JEAN-CLAUDE VAN ITALLIE

Belgian-born holocaust survivor, form-breaking playwright of landmark 1960’s anti-Vietnam War America Hurrah, ensemble playwright of Open Theater and The Serpent.
Jean-Claude is author of some thirty plays and the most produced American translations of Chekhov’s major plays, performer of one person shows, early student of Tibetan lama, Chogyam Trungpa, Rinpoche, librettist of the opera Tibetan Book of the Dead with music by Ricky Ian Gordon, master teacher of performance, writing, meditation workshops, author of The Playwright’s Workbook and Tea with Demons, 49 games of Transformation, and more.

He is the founder and director on his farm in Western Massachusetts of Shantigar Foundation for Theater, Meditation, and Healing. Jean-Claude van Itallie was born in Brussels in 1936, emigrated to America in 1940, graduate from Harvard in 1958, and was a seminal force in the explosive Off-Broadway theater of the sixties. He was one of the original playwrights at Ellen Stewart’s LaMama Experimental Theater Club. His translations of Chekhov are prized by directors and actors for their clarity and subtle rhythms. An inspired teacher, van Itallie has taught playwriting and performance and led Writing on Your Feet workshops at Princeton, NYU, Harvard, Yale, Amherst, Columbia, and Middlebury, among other locations. He has transformed an old farm in Western Massachusetts into the Shantigar Foundation for Theater, Mediation, and Healing.

 

LOIS WALDEN

American writer, singer, songwriter, librettist, record producer, performer, and teaching artist. Author of the novels One More Stop (Arcadia, 2010), and Afterworld (Arcadia, 2013), Lois Walden worked as a television writer in Hollywood with many major artists including Dionne Warwick, and Jane Fonda. As founder of the gospel group, The Sisters of Glory, she performed at Woodstock ’94 and at the Vatican for the Pope. She co-produced the group’s critically acclaimed album, Good News in Hard Times, for Warner Bros., as well as writing and co-producing her solo album, Traveller. She was the lyricist for American Dreams Lost and Found, based on the book by Studs Terkel. Her life and music have been profiled on CBS Sunday Morning and Good Morning America.

Her debut novel, One More Stop was a Lambda Literary Awards finalist and a Waterstones New Voices finalist. For the past 15 years Lois has travelled America for The Acting Company teaching teenagers in small towns and inner city schools how to tap into their emotions and understand their world through classic theatre and literature. She is currently co-writing the libretto for the Buddhist opera Mila, Great Sorcerer, and working on her third novel, Beyond Expectation. In addition Lois Walden is the writer for the non-fiction project High School Yearbook, a book, website and social media program empowering young people with cancer and connecting them and their families with others going through similar circumstances throughout the world.

 

 
 

kevin newbury

Theatre, opera, film, and event director with over sixty original productions. His work has been presented by many opera companies, festivals and symphonies. Some of them are the Park Avenue Armory, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, The Santa Fe Opera, Barcelona Liceu, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Minnesota Opera, The San Francisco Symphony, L’Opera de Montreal, The Prototype Festival, Urban Arias (DC), Bard Summerscape, Portland Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Philadelphia Orchestra, Seattle Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Cincinnati Opera, The Virginia Arts Festival and The Wexford Festival in Ireland, among many others. Kevin is especially committed to developing and directing new work.

He has directed over two dozen world premiere operas and plays, many of which were subsequently published or recorded. Recent world premiere highlights include Spears/Pierce’s FELLOW TRAVELERS (Cincinnati Opera, 2017, upcoming: Prototype Festival/NYC and Lyric Opera of Chicago). Kevin has also directed the Park Avenue Armory Gala for three years running, featuring Patti LuPone, The Young Professionals, Sky Pony and Kimbra, and hundreds of musicians, performers and artists. Kevin’s production of FELLOW TRAVELERS was named “One of the Best Classical Music Events of 2016” by The New York Times. Kevin’s first two short films, MONSURA IS WAITING and STAG, have screened at a total of forty film festivals and have each won several festival awards. MONSURA IS WAITING is available on iTunes and STAG will be released in late 2016. His third, EPIPHANY V, a music-video collaboration with Jimmy Lopez and David Johnson, will be released in 2017.

 

terry eder

Co-Producer
Concert pianist, attorney, and founder of Key Pianists at Carnegie Hall. Terry Eder brings total involvement and interpretive insight to her performances with the aim of touching her audiences in a personal way. Born in Detroit of Eastern European heritage, Terry showed prodigious talent by age 4. Ms. Eder won a research grant from the International Research and Exchanges Board that sponsored her year-long residency at the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest. There Ms. Eder specialized in twentieth century piano music by Hungarian composers and learned to speak Hungarian. Today she is recognized as an exceptional advocate of the music of Béla Bartók. She won the top Bartók prize in the 2008 IBLA Grand Prize and Bartók-Kabalevsky-Prokofiev competitions.

Terry Eder’s repertoire encompasses much of the major piano literature, as well as seldom performed works of Bartók, Dohnányi, Kodály, and others. She has also been lauded as a lecturer, and has been invited to such venues as the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the New School University and the Yong Siew Toh Conservatory in Singapore.

Ms. Eder is the founder of Key Pianists, a concert series that take place at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. Also an attorney, she has served on the Board of Directors of the Leschetizky Association since 2008, and has lent her expertise to human rights and musical organizations.

 

gene kaufman

Co-Producer
Award winning and prolific architect based in New York City. Gene Kaufman was educated at Cornell University. Prior to starting his own practice, he was assistant State Architect of New Mexico; Design Director at Buro Raeber-Sieber Architekten in Switzerland and Associate at internationally renowned Rafael Viñoly Architects in New York City. He formed his own firm, Gene Kaufman Architect (GKA) in 1986 and after 25 years of successful practice in 2011, Gene Kaufman and internationally renowned Gwathmey Siegel joined forces with Gene Kaufman as head.

Gene Kaufman ser serves on the Glimmerglass Festival Board of Trustees With over 30 years of experience in architecture, Gene has been recognized as the leading architect in New York City for hospitality projects. Gwathmey Siegel received the AIA Gold Medal as the best architecture firm of the year in the U.S.

Mr. Kaufman has been a contributor to Robert Wilson’s The Threepenny Opera (Weill), Blizzard at Marblehead Neck (Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori), Crossing (Aucoin) and The Good Swimmer (Rodewald).

In 2015, Mr. Kaufman formed a 501c3 New Vision for NYC Opera LLC.

 

 
 
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opera commission

 

Mila, Great Sorcerer, has been commissioned by Gene Kaufman, Terry Eder and New Vision for NYC Opera.

In 2015, Mr. Kaufman founded New Vision for NYC Opera, Inc. New Vision’s mission is to make opera available to the general public and to promote opera education.

Today, Mr. Kaufman continues New Vision’s commitment to making opera accessible to all and promoting opera education. New Vision collaborates with the opera community’s emerging artists and helps to fulfill their vision of creating new operas and new adaptations of existing operas. New Vision also seeks out collaborative ventures to promote opera education.

 
 
 

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work sample from the composer, andrea clearfield

 
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mila,
great sorcerer

Commissioned by Gene Kaufman, Terry Eder and New Vision for NYC Opera.
In addition to the chamber orchestra of Western instruments, there will be Tibetan ritual and folk instruments as well as a full range of percussion.

Composer: Andrea Clearfield
Librettist: Jean-Claude van Itallie & Lois Walden

Conductor:  Lidiya Yankovskaya
Principal Pianist: Djordje Nesic
Percussionist: Chihiro Shibayama

Mila: Jonathan Blalock
Mother: Caroline Worra
Father: Christopher Magiera
Uncle: David Kravitz
Aunt: Kimberly Sogioka
Sorcerer: Justin Hopkins
Marpa: Matthew Anchell
Damema: Ashley Kerr