Live Stage: Aquatic Opera [us Palm Springs]

009_17a.jpgAquatic Opera by Juliana Snapper and Jeanine Oleson :: July 14, at 7 p.m. :: Palm Springs Swimming Pool = La Scala + Jacques Cousteau; Work-in-Progress; Please bring swimsuit :: Susan Matheson and Ron Athey are co-hosting the first performance workshop :: Limited capacity; please email athey[at]

Soprano and musicologist, Juliana Snapper and artist Jeanine Oleson are creating a series of intimate public experimentations to be performed in pools and bathtubs around LA and San Francisco. From their blog: Live in LA? Have a tub? Want to host an opera? Your bathroom = La Scala + Jacques Cousteau :: How do you host one of the first underwater operas in your Los Angeles home? Think up the most wonderful bathtub concert environment you can imagine and tell us in an email. Three hosts will be chosen for in-tub performances between July 14-18, 2007. You decide the parameters. We bring the opera. These situational experiments in an intimate setting are organized by Juliana Snapper and Jeanine Oleson. Please feel free to email us with any questions or requests at: aquaopera[at]

Ron Athey interviewed Snapper:

Ron Athey: I hate to start of lowbrow, but I was talking to Andrew Infanti, and our only context to underwater “vocals” was Weechi Wachi, the mermaid theme park in Florida, where the sexy mermaids lip synch to songs and do provocative acts like eating bananas underwater.

Juliana Snapper: (ignores my cheapshot) What distinguishes this piece most from other musical projects in the water is that both the singer and her voice are in direct contact with the water. (A French composer supposedly got closest to this by submerging a singer in a glass bubble but she never even got moist.) I’m still learning how to make the most of the voice in water because it behaves so differently and I have to relearn everything. Right now I’m working with my sound in two ways: singing directly into the water and through prosthetics. Just singing into the water entails maximizing the body’s conduction of vibration so that the bones move as much sound info as possible and working with the air bubbles out the mouth — tinkly flows of small bubbles or giant boomy releases. They have their own character. Singing into a metal snorkel takes the bubble noise out of it and lets the sound work in the water with more ring. The water sound will be mic-ed and projected above water. I’m curious though too about making ear horns for the listener to dip under water to hear directly, and in Palm Springs it might be great to put people right in the pool.

Ron: It seems challenging enough to use a breathing apparatus underwater, but to actually perform operatic vocals.

Juliana: It’s a tricky thing to take on because it stresses technique beyond operatic limits and a small amount of water sucked in accidentally can be fatal. But that’s really how it started — as a partner piece to the upside-down table scene from Judas Cradle. I can’t understand why singing has never been approached this way – every other instrument has been broken and altered to see what other sounds were there. With the voice, its not only a musical question, but pushing the instrument to the limit as a way of making it expressive raises questions of embodiment and socialization and expressive exchange, that let opera speak in new ways.

Ron: As one of the main elements, water is also symbolically loaded.

Juliana: I’m interested in the fantasies of feminine power and singing underwater. Not just Europe but India, China, and Africa have mythologies about sirens and mermaids. What’s up with that? What’s up mermaid on the rock with no pussy, just a fat tail? What’s up with the siren who lures sailors to their death by ear fucking them? Lesbians and manatees… It’s a fishpussy mess, girl.

Ron: How did you come to work with Jeanine Oleson in this process?

Juliana: My original plan was to ask artists to write me scores, starting with Jeanine. Jeanine is writing the first score, which I feel is going to have a big impact on the opera as a whole, maybe thread through it. She’s coming to help tease stuff out with these workshops to see what the palette is. She’s fucking sharp and her art is fleshy and beautiful and witty. I like this classical music structure because it can layer authorship in a way that’s generous, flexible, interesting. I bring the raw materials of singing underwater, and soundworlds that stem from that, and then I’ll work with a handful of scores (from graphic to situational and broad stroked to micromanaged) that form acts of a large opera as its performed in different sites on the way to the ocean.

Ron: The concept of working in the ocean is huge and seems much more uncontrollable.

Juliana: I talk about the ocean as the final destination because its gonna take some real gear and boats and deep comfort singing under pressurized water in the cold. Imagine grottos around the world as backdrops… I’m just as interested though in the smaller water venues — Jeanine has a dream of doing an overnighter at the Manhattan Aquarium — and especially being in people’s homes. I find singing in close quarters powerfully humanizing and right now in this world and in this country, it is small humanizing acts that draw my attention more than anything else.

Ron: That is always the challenge with performance work, how to keep the experience intimate, even as the project become grand. This is definitely experimental and symbolist, is there also a political feeling in this work?

Juliana: Since working in the water I have been thinking a lot about the new relationship with water that is already in motion for we people of the earth. Climates are changing so that inland fresh water sources are drying up and coastal cities like San Francisco, Manhattan, Amsterdam may be underwater in a few decades.

Ron: The fulfillment of J.G. Ballards Waterworld. I know you are also working with Scripps Institute of Oceanography in La Jolla, how are they supporting you in this development process?

Juliana: Dr. Grant Deane is my man at Scripps. He’s an oceanographer studying ocean acoustics, 1) how water and air interact in bubble fields to measure climate change, and 2) underwater communications. He’s got an archive of underwater recordings — bubble fields, critters, glaciers melting, rain, wind…– and he’s helping me think about how to use my voice and sound underwater in both practical and acoustical terms.

Ron: And finally, the horrible reality of funding, how is this going to work?

Juliana: We’re working on getting money but nobody’s bitten yet. Writing a few arts grants, and also applying for science money. I’d like to have some dollars right now but I think when this gets going the funding will come.


Vocal artist Juliana Snapper creates experimental opera, performing internationally with opera and new music ensembles, and working in collaboration with theater, visual and new media artists. Snapper’s work has been discussed in journals such as, Art in America, and TDR: The Drama Review among others. Her vocalism, playing at the ridge of virtuosity and breakage, is described as both “precise” and “too warmly human”, “ecstatic” and “a flayed shred of human need, desire, pain.” Born in Albany, California, Snapper began performing and recording professionally as a teenager. At 15 she gave her first new music premier at UC Berkeley, and by 17, she had joined her first opera company and taken part in an Emmy award winning recording with the Philharmonia Baroque. Juliana received her BM in vocal performance from the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and then returned to California to pursue an interdisciplinary Ph.D. (Critical Studies/Experimental Practices in Music) at UC San Diego. Snapper has featured recently in Los Angeles at the Disney RedCat Theater, the Armand Hammer Museum, and in New York at PS122, Participant Inc. Gallery, and for the NYU’s Interactive Arts Performance Series and the Performa05 Biennial. Juliana gave the US premier of French composer Philippe Manoury’s interactive cycle, En Echo in 2002 with programmer Miller Puckette and they have since presented the work throughout the United States. In 2004, she created the role of Rafael for poet Eileen Myles and composer Michael Webster’s opera Hell. Snapper created the lyric spectacle, “The Judas Cradle,” with artist Ron Athey, which was commissioned by the UK Fierce! Festival and toured internationally on a grant from the British Arts Council in 2005. Her voice pieces for video, with artist Paula Cronan, have shown in festivals in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, London, Madrid, and Zagreb. Snapper’s writing on music is published in The Journal of Open Space, Encyclopedia, and The European Journal of Cultural Studies.

Jeanine Oleson is an artist whose practice incorporates interdisciplinary uses of performance, film/video, installation, and photographic work. She attended the School of the Art institute of Chicago, Rutgers University, and Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture. Oleson has exhibited at venues including: L.A.C.E., Los Angeles; Monya Rowe Gallery, NY; Samson Projects, Boston; John Connelly Presents, NY; Bates College Museum of Art, ME; Kansas City Museum of Art, MO; Participant, Inc., NY; PS 1 Contemporary Art Center, NY; Galerie Schedler, Zurich; Pumphouse Gallery, London; Art in General, NY; and White Columns, NY.

Jul 12, 2007
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