Don St. Pierre describes the production of L. Z. Masque as a Calder mobile.
“Five moving parts, each with its own integrity, moving and colliding in acoustic space,” said St. Pierre, the voice coach. “One’s focus shifts among them as the piece unfolds.”
At 1:30 p.m. Sunday in Fletcher Music Hall, Voice students Miles Herr, Emily Pogorelc, Erin Schwab and Philip Stoddard, with St. Pierre on the harpsichord, will perform L. Z. Masque, directed by Mikhaela Mahony. The event benefits the Chautauqua Women’s Club Scholarship Fund.
The Masque is a combination of Louis Zukofsky’s work — poetry, theatrical works and stories — set to Handel harpsichord pieces. The works were assembled by his wife, Celia, after his death. It features four characters — Thought, Poetry, Story and Drama — which have separate, spoken parts, sometimes overlapping each other.
Herr, who portrays Thought, said there are no available recordings of the Masque available — it hasn’t been performed before, at least to their knowledge.
“We’re kind of flying in the dark here,” Herr said. “It’s been a really interesting journey for the past 10 days or so trying to wrap our heads around the relationship between the text and the music, and the texts with each other.”
Each part follows its own arc, Herr said. The characters’ relationships with themselves is “disparate, if any” and unifying points are sometimes far-out.
“Thought, so far as I can see, is sort of just meanderings, high-level thinking about writing, poetry and the connection between what you see on a page and what your mind jumps to,” he said. “A lot of my personal struggle has been trying to figure out what the hell Zukofsky is saying.”
The mish-mash of parts is felt by each of the cast members. Herr said it’s mentally taxing to try to be in the right place at the right time; Stoddard, who portrays Drama, said dovetailing each part together to form thoughts is a challenge; Pogorelc, who is cast as Story, said communicating Zukofsky’s work is trickiest.
“You want to bring a sort of brilliance to your performance,” Pogorelc said. “People’s attention spans are so short. The Zukofsky Masque brings us into the here and now because if you don’t pay attention, you’re going to miss out.”
Story’s part provides a difficult task of communicating a confusing string of words that are already in English, Pogorelc said.
“I find it interesting — stories were always something we read as kids. It’s the fundamental part of why we ask people, ‘How are you?’ We want to hear a story,” Pogorelc said. “We have the awesome job of translating this thing, and when it’s in English — how can we communicate our own language best?”
The rehearsal process has been busy, Pogorelc said, as all four students were in Handel’s Ariodante in Week Four. Training with St. Pierre, though, makes it all worth it, she said.
“Don is a genius. Don is a literal genius,” Pogorelc said. “Don is a person whose mind works in an incredible way — he’s like music’s Leonardo DaVinci.”
Using St. Pierre’s knowledge and guidance has helped the process of creating something that has, essentially, gone unseen since its inception in 1968, Stoddard said.
“It’s exciting, and it’s very strange because you don’t have any precedent, which I find liberating,” Stoddard said. “It’s open to multiple interpretations, and you can make your own story. You can, in this kind of cacophony of words and sounds, go on a journey not necessarily knowing all the answers of your story.”