Without a literal connection between the trio, Little sought out a “cosmic connection.” He went to poet Anne Waldman, 77, the author of more than 40 books of poetry and who was associated with poets of the Beat movement.
Waldman wrote a libretto for Little, filled with dark and troubling imagery.
“Maybe Anne is the perfect person to write this text because, one, she knew William Burroughs,” said Little. “And her work engages with this cosmic realm. It feels almost like a shamanistic practice in a really amazing way.”
Waldman’s libretto resonated with Little, but it still didn’t add up to a story.
He found a narrative structure in the bardo, the spiritual realm between life and rebirth where, in some Buddhist traditions, a soul goes through a series of transformative phases.
In the beginning of the opera, Bekbosunov is seen in a television monitor reciting lines:
In the electroshock bardo he encountered parasitic beings,
Was brought back to life so that these fiends could live off him.
“We were looking at a few different writings on the Bardo experience, where a soul who has just died is encountering their earthly attachments, and then moving through the paces of trying to come to terms with their life before returning, presumably, as a reincarnation,” said director Michael McQuilken.
“We set it in a Lynchian world, cinematically, in the sense that it’s mid-century and spooky and things don’t necessarily add up immediately,” he added. “Hopefully they do by the end. I mean, we definitely attempted to make everything line up by the end.”
The film takes viewers into the basement of an abandoned industrial building, a wind-swept desert, a hospital, a wood-paneled room with a bar. The locations are phases of the bardo where The Man spins through his own mental torture.
Bekbosunov calls it a psychological escape room.
“He’s stuck in that place trying to find his way. He’s writing his way out of it. The character says this all the time, this phrase: ‘Write my way out of here. I’ve got to write my way out of here,’” he said. “That’s one way you deal with depression. That’s how you deal with life.”
That story also describes the score. Little calls the piece “ritualistic,” composing cyclical music with looping melodies and repeated motifs. The music seems to keep revisiting itself as the singer obsesses over his past regrets.
David Lynch has a strong connection to Philadelphia, where he went to art school as a young man, started his family, and where the seeds of his dark and dreamy artistic vision were planted.
“Black Lodge” is not set in Philadelphia – the abandoned industrial basement is actually in Maine – but Little gives a nod to Philly in one of the songs.
“There’s a line, ‘No rotting fruit on Aspen Street,’ in one of the later songs in the piece. That’s a reference to when Lynch lived in Philadelphia on Aspen Street and he used to keep a bowl of rotting fruit, as a sort of artistic inspiration,” said Little. “He’d have this moldy, rotten fruit, and I thought that was just an amazing image.”
“Black Lodge” will be performed twice this weekend, on Saturday and Sunday. Afterward Opera Philadelphia plans to release the film on its online streaming platform. Little said an album recording is being planned for release next year.
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