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S.E.M. Ensemble

Master-Pieces at Bohemian National Hall: april 28

Petr Kotik Master-Pieces (2014-15)

Chamber opera in one act (12 scenes) – duration 70 minutes

Libretto by Petr Kotik based on the writings by Gertrude Stein


Christina Kay, Soprano (lead singer); Steven Wilson, Tenor; Jose Pietri-Coimbre, Baritone; Nick Hay, Bass; Debra Kay Anderson, James Falzone, Kerry Wolff, Narrators;

Pauline Kim, Violin; Liuh-Wen Ting, Viola; Jeffrey Reinhardt, Oboe/English Horn; Tim Leopold, Trumpet;

Caleb van der Swaagh, Violoncello; Chris Nappi, Percussion


Saturday April 28

Bohemian National Hall

321 East 73rd St, NYC 


The core subject of Master-Pieces is a meditation on the nature of creative work, and on works of art that we identify as masterpieces. Gertrude Stein says the following: “the masterpiece has nothing to do with human nature or with identity, it has to do with the human mind and entity. It is a thing in itself and not in relation.”  This observation could be generalized, relating not just to works of art. In a metaphorical sense, it relates to everything we do: is it about ourselves (identity), or about the work we do (entity)? A focus on the self diminishes the chance of creating something extraordinary – if it is about you, not the work you are doing, it cannot be very interesting. This is why a masterpiece is timeless and not bound to a particular person, or time, while it simultaneously is tied to its author, and is an expression of its time.

The opera Master-Pieces is a flow of meditation, conversation, quasi lecture and thinking aloud, interrupted by three narrators, whose text is taken from “The Wars I Have Seen,” the diary Stein wrote from 1943-1944. It makes reference to situations experienced by Stein during WWII and places the opera in a certain time and space.

Master-Pieces goes beyond the spectacle of musical performance, investigating a meaningful subject within a theater performance. The theatrical energy comes from the very questions raised by Stein, as she continuously veers away from her subject to contemplate and investigate issues of creative processes and the relationship between artists and the work they create. The opera is a hybrid of theater and music. The words – sometimes sung and sometimes spoken – strive to retain the poetry of Stein’s language while opening various layers of meaning.