On Monday, February 25, I visited Stokes Auditorium to get a brief taste of “Lost in the Woods,” a one-act opera by the composer Christopher Shultis, including the vocals of the soprano Stacey Mastrian and the instruments of the Akros Percussion Collective.
We were introduced to Shultis by Professor and Chair of Fine Arts Hee Sook Kim (who happens to be his wife). She talked about the experiences they have had, from meeting each other, considering their different mediums, and uploading YouTube videos of their performances together. Ultimately, their individual talents have created a synthesis of art that she hopes will inspire her students to be creative in collaborating with artists outside their fields. This was relevant as the majority of the audience were students of her fine arts classes, which generally emphasize visual art rather than musical performances.
Shultis then spoke for about 20 minutes, putting “Lost in the Woods” within the context of his thoughts, experiences, and intellect; “Lost in the Woods” is a percussion opera focusing on themes of civil disobedience and nature, drawing on Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Using excerpts from the text, Shultis imagines the play as if “Walden were to return to the present as a woman,” suddenly enraged by Trump-era politics and ongoing human rights issues such as migration.
The anger of Shultis’s thoughts was apparent in Mastrian’s vocals, which were complemented by the drums, cymbals, and background slides. Amid scenes of water droplets and leaves bristling, her voice came to life as part of nature itself, as indicated by the bars that appear on the screen as her voice fluctuated. Her song was about the impact of modern-day industrialization and politics Walden would have most likely hated if he were alive in the present. The 11-minute set (hence the “mini-opera”) was a lengthy conversation between Mastrian’s voice and the instruments, playing with little force behind them (for example, a light stroke was used for the cymbal to produce sound).
The mini-opera ended with a brief question and answer session with Stacey and the Akros Percussion, who first discussed their experiences going into the performance before answering a question or two from the audience. Hee Sook Kim came back to the stage to reiterate the importance of collaboration between different artistic mediums, which was exemplified in the performance through its use of vocals, instruments, and a projector screen.
Written by Matthew Ridley ’19. Edited by Eleanor Morgan ’20.
Photos by Patrick Montero.