Opera based on timeless tragedy of Milli Vanilli to open in Brooklyn

Opera based on timeless tragedy of Milli Vanilli to open in Brooklyn

Of all the stories of outsized despair to be told about those chewed up and spit out by the meat grinder that is the music industry, perhaps none is more moving, more resonant, or more tragic than that of Milli Vanilli. At least, that's what composer Joe Diebes, poet Christian Hawkey, and David Levine are hoping, as they prepare to debut Wow, an opera based on the singing duo that received the Best New Artist Grammy in 1990 for its album Girl You Know It's True, only to have the award rescinded when it was revealed its members had lip-synced all of their live performances—and, in fact, did not even sing on their own album.

Diebes, who views the "Faustian bargain" Milli Vanilli made with its producer to be worthy of high tragedy, intends to represent the figurative machinery of the record industry that both created and destroyed the group with literal machinery. Diebes' score is a deconstruction of Wagner's "Meistersinger," from which he's broken down every instrumental line, measure by measure. He will then sequence those snatches of music and send them to various computer monitors, to be read and played by the performers in real time. As a result, no two performances of the opera will be the same, as even the vocal melodies will change based on the conductor's whim.

Such spontaneous changes to the music are unheard of in the world of opera, and sure to be taxing on the performers. Maybe the whole thing would be easier if everything were, say, pre-recorded?