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Detroit Stages Rare John Cage Operas

By Sara Schabas on March 11, 2024

A scene from John Cage’s Europeras: 3 & 4
A scene from John Cage’s Europeras: 3 & 4 (Photo: Detroit Opera)

This weekend, the Detroit Opera revived the pioneering composer and theorist John Cage’s rarely performed Europeras: 3 & 4. The opera was staged by Yuval Sharon and the cast included star singers Davóne Tines and Susan Graham.

The backstory: John Cage’s Europeras: 3 & 4 are considered Cage’s “middle operas.” They consist of a 70-minute musical collage of aleatoric representations of Western art music, which unfold according to the I Ching. The title suggests a representation of European operas as well as “your operas,” and for the original performance in 1990, audiences were given Madlib-style programs. Each performance of the operas is different as audiences open their ears to new realms of sound, like in Cage’s famous 4’33.”

Zoom out: Presenting Cage’s works can be a risk for organizations whose audiences expect the classics. Director of the Detroit productions Yuval Sharon summed up the ethos of the Cage works in an interview with the New York Times; they’re all about allowing performers and audiences to pay attention in different ways.

Sara Schabas
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