Toni Castells: new operas, & new science

Toni Castells: new operas, & new science

Jenna Simeonov

On July 6th, 7:30pm at St. James’, 197 Picadilly, Tête à Tête presents the world premiere of Toni Castells’ 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal? The piece explores immortality and human scientific advancements, and Castells gave us a fascinating interview about what it means to tell stories of our future through opera, an art form full of history.

2045 has served its purpose in the sense that it has overcome my own fear of death, it has shifted it completely actually, and has made me understand why I’m here.”

What are the questions and themes that audiences will find in 2045: The Year Man Becomes Immortal?

The piece started as homage to this wonderful scientific achievement mankind is about to achieve, singularity, this new era the techno-scientific community envisages from 2045 in which man and machine will finally merge allowing for us to extend life indefinitely.

However the piece also wonders whether there’s a purpose to being mortal, there’s a purpose to dying. When our days are numbered, life becomes more precious and we cherish more the things we love. So it opens this dichotomy to the audience, wondering whether we are on the right path in trying to tamper with the nature’s cycle of life.

What significance do you find in telling a story about human advancement and the future, using an art form that has always had a large place in our history?

I personally believe that true art should always question the big questions, whether it’s in literature, art or music or any other art form. And it should tackle them in a way that speaks directly to the ‘soul’, as when we speak to the ‘mind’ it always takes us to what we already know so rarely there’s advancement there.

Music is the language I know and hence I use it to reflect on these questions. My operas are unconventional in the sense there’s no theatrical setting, I always felt it unnecessary and overacted, singers rarely make good actors, but still there’s a story and the use of operatic voices. The words should be powerful enough to be understood without having to be ‘acted’.

What appealed to you about this story, and why did you decide it would make a good subject for an operatic telling?

Science and technology have always fascinated me but at times I’ve wondered if they are slowly distancing us from our true nature and true purpose. My work is a diary of my existence, about what issues interest or trouble me at a particular stage of life, so I use my music as a cathartic experience to deal with these issues and try and understand them. 2045 has served its purpose in the sense that it has overcome my own fear of death, it has shifted it completely actually, and has made me understand why I’m here.

The thing is that I’m no different to any other human so it’s likely that my work is going to resonate with a lot of people. But my intention is never to see if it’s going to make a good story thinking of the audience, it’s all about dealing with whatever is affecting me at the time.

What sort of musical aesthetic have you created for this piece?

As I mentioned, my operas are unconventional in the sense that there is no theatrical setting for them. In the past I’ve used visuals and film to carry the weight of the story, but in this instance I’ve decided to get rid of that too. I felt that I was supporting my music on the visuals, using them as a crutch, fearing that by itself my music was not powerful enough to stand on its own. I want to see if my music and my words stand on their own this time.

However it was important for the piece to be performed in a church, it provides the aesthetic necessary for the message and also provide wonderful acoustics. There are no new buildings created at such scale and perfection. I want to detach the piece from any particular religion or religious belief, but its clear that there’s a spiritual dimension to it, at the moment you are dealing with death you cannot escape that dimension. I will be using the colour blue to light up the performance. That will be the only theatrical effect, a blue hue that will light up the performance. When I was writing the piece I always saw the colour blue in the music so I felt it fitting to reflect that on the performance.

What do you hope audiences will take away from this premiere?

I only hope people will come without any preconceived idea of what to expect. I think that the beauty of it is that every person can take something different from it, we all see the world under a different prism and my idea is not to explain any absolute truth, just to take people to a place where they can reflect on their own mortality and hopefully it will make them appreciate life more and also the things they love.

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