Composer Anthony Gatto releases "Wise Blood," his operatic setting of Flannery O'Connor's wild, Southern Gothic novel about a crisis of faith in a young war veteran. The pace and syntax of “preachers with microphones” colors much of Gatto's text setting in this tale of spiritual mayhem and murder. While the accompanying brass orchestra evokes the New Orleans-style, second-line music traditions, the opera draws upon many styles and techniques for delineating its menagerie of characters. Enhanced by studio and Foley techniques, “Wise Blood’’ is a glitch opera drenched in the blood of the Christ-haunted South.
|01||Scene 1: On the Train, Inside the Sleeping Berth|
Scene 1: On the Train, Inside the Sleeping Berth
|02||Scene 2: Taulkinham|
Scene 2: Taulkinham
|03||Scene 2: Help a blind preacher|
Scene 2: Help a blind preacher
|04||Scene 2: I smell the sin on your breath|
Scene 2: I smell the sin on your breath
|05||Scene 2: I come a long way|
Scene 2: I come a long way
|06||Scene 2: Sabbath Lily tells a story|
Scene 2: Sabbath Lily tells a story
|07||Scene 3: Haze preaches The Church Without Christ|
Scene 3: Haze preaches The Church Without Christ
|08||1st Interlude Enoch Emery|
1st Interlude Enoch Emery
|09||Scene 4: Haze rents at Mrs. Flood’s Boarding House|
Scene 4: Haze rents at Mrs. Flood’s Boarding House
|10||Scene 4: Sabbath Lily 1st song Babe I never saw|
Scene 4: Sabbath Lily 1st song Babe I never saw
|11||2nd Enoch Emery Interlude|
2nd Enoch Emery Interlude
|12||Scene 5: The Church Without Christ needs a new jesus|
Scene 5: The Church Without Christ needs a new jesus
|13||Scene 6: Onnie Jay Holy|
Scene 6: Onnie Jay Holy
|14||Scene 8: Haze lights a match|
Scene 8: Haze lights a match
|15||3rd Enoch Emery Interlude|
3rd Enoch Emery Interlude
|16||Scene 9: Where you come from is gone|
Scene 9: Where you come from is gone
|17||Scene 10: Sabbath Lily 2nd song I knew when I first seen you|
Scene 10: Sabbath Lily 2nd song I knew when I first seen you
|18||Scene 10: Onnie Jay Holy presents The True Prophet, Enoch Emery steals a gorilla suit|
Scene 10: Onnie Jay Holy presents The True Prophet, Enoch Emery steals a gorilla suit
|19||Scene 11: The murder of Solace Layfield|
Scene 11: The murder of Solace Layfield
|20||Scene 12: Hazel Motes blinds himself|
Scene 12: Hazel Motes blinds himself
|21||Scene 12: Mrs. Flood proposes|
Scene 12: Mrs. Flood proposes
‘Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it.’ (O'Connor)
The young shattered war veteran Hazel Motes shouts these words from the hood of his car in Wise Blood. America as a "nation of immigrants" shares his sermon as its origin story—or otherwise had it forced on them along the way. Haze may as well also be addressing: the reckoning of America's racist history, its terrorism, voter suppression and disenfranchisement, the genocide of America’s indigenous people, and more recently, climate change, pandemic change, Oxycontin, the militarization of police, the White House flouting the rule of law... “Where you come from is gone” sermonizes on the ways of lost nations and their lost mythologies, and also, the future lost innocence of every child who bears this legacy of being an American.”– Anthony Gatto
Wise Blood’s plot unfolds with forward motion, as we follow the story of traumatized soldier Hazel Motes upon his return to a transformed hometown in Tennessee. The musical setting in Wise Blood often provides introspective support to Motes’ unfolding story of coming to terms with what has been transformed, personally and communally, since going off to war. Influences of gospel, traditional spirituals, music theatre, brass fanfares, and studio produced pop songs shape a score that tackles the trajectory of loss of self, identity, and cultural connection.
Engineer: Reid Kruger
Design and Layout: Marc J. Wolf
An opera based on the novel by Flannery O’Connor music and libretto by Anthony Gatto
© 1949 by Flannery O'Connor; copyright renewed 1976 by Regina Cline O'Connor.
Permission granted by the Mary Flannery O'Connor Charitable Trust. All rights reserved.
A native of Brooklyn, New York, Anthony Gatto has developed a diverse body of music, often informed by literary and visual arts, exploring alternative narrative modes and structures. His cross-media works include the music and libretto for Wise Blood, after the novel Flannery O'Connor. Commissioned by the Walker Art Center, Wise Blood (2015) presents the shattered war veteran Hazel Motes preaching the Church Without Christ from the hood of his car. Also commissioned by the Walker Art Center, his opera The Making of Americans (2008), based on the novel by Gertrude Stein, presents Stein's spectacular, universalist language celebrating generations of American families.
Anthony studied music privately with Ornette Coleman in the 80s, later founding The Festival Dancing in Your Head, dedicated to his music and influences. He completed a doctorate in composition at the Yale School of Music in 2001, and has received fellowships and awards from the Fulbright Scholar Program (Berlin), New York Foundation for the Arts, the Bush Foundation, McKnight Foundation, Jerome Foundation, Meet the Composer, Inc, an ASCAP Grant to Young Composers; residency fellowships at Yaddo, The Millay Colony for the Arts, Aaron Copland House, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Willapa Bay Artist-in-Residence program. He is an Associate Professor of Music at City University of New York.
Anything that comes out of the South is going to be called grotesque by the northern reader, unless it is grotesque, in which case it is going to be called realistic.” Thus Flannery O'Connor, whose searing, disturbing fiction marks her as one of the most remarkable figures in American literature, and whose theological and ethical insights, handed out freely in her fiction with the soul-shattering intensity of an Old Testament prophet, make her fiction one of the most successful integrations of a profound Catholic faith into popular culture of any evangelist. The dark humor, violence, and the skewering gaze she turns on her warped, flawed characters form a style once encountered, never forgotten. Wise Blood was her first novel, the tale of Haze, a bitter, furious atheist whose crisis of faith leads him to found a "Church Without Jesus"; he falls in with a supposedly blind street preacher and his morally bankrupt daughter, a disturbed young man who believes he has "wise blood" which enables him to discern spiritual matters without guidance and who is caught up in the blasphemous anti-church, and various other deluded or unsavory characters. A mummified dwarf is stolen from a museum, there are murders, a blinding, a gorilla costume, and the unexpected redemption of a relatively minor character. O'Connor described the book as being about "freedom, free will, life and death, and the inevitability of belief." Gatto astutely sets this provocative theatre of bizarrerie as a kind of radio opera, presented live as an immersive multimedia installation, which this recording, with its electronic effects and studio production techniques, emulates. The strangeness of O'Connor's narrative, its overlapping, intertwining, contradictory meanings, actions and consequences are thus presented more accurately than any conventional operatic telling could achieve. Paragraphs of O'Connor's matchless descriptive prose are woven into the libretto, to powerful effect. The result is accessible, as O'Connor's writing is accessible, the better to draw the audience into the unsettling narrative; musically Gatto draws on parodies of Southern church music, the exaggerated faux-ecstatic style of evangelical preaching, a post-modern mixture of tonal orchestral music from the brass-heavy wind ensemble and sonoristic modernism, and some moving arias accompanied by rich brass sonorities. The result is as apt an adaptation of the novel as we are ever likely to hear; almost as disturbing and shockingly revelatory, indeed, as reading the book.
— David Bloom, 8.15.2020
In which we find not all American arts council money is squandered in the name of log rolling and wire pulling. A modern opera based on a Flannery O’Connor novel is a theatrical sized presentation that is large enough to keep your attention throughout. Whether music fan or theater fan, this engaging work is a high water mark for thinking people on the prowl for some juicy and meaty entertainment and made for more than munching pop corn to. And now, you can enjoy literary classics in a whole new way.
— Chris Spector, 8.25.2020