Leaving Santa Monica (2005)

Leaving Santa Monica was inspired by the poly-narrative abilities of film and poetry. While it attempts to tell the story of two young women and their childhood memories, the settings and texts move in rhizomatic patterns to create an overarching mosaic of memory, time, and nostalgia. Although it is scored for two female voices and male choir, it is less a narrative opera than it is a poem about closely related people who have intensely strong but highly different memories of living in the same place. It is also an exploration of how such phenomena are mediated by events such as falling in love and getting married, and a meditation on what it means to leave things behind.

Tableau 1:
Two flaxen-haired young women, dressed in their finery, are out-of-place guests at a lavish wedding. They recognize one another immediately, but cannot quite place each other. As the ceremony proceeds, they amuse themselves by imitating the bride and groom, exchanging love vows and pretending to be starting a new life together. This strange game suddenly triggers a memory—a distant glimmer, but a memory—of a promise made and broken, a forgotten tragedy in a faraway place, and a score that must be settled.

Tableau 2:
Having escaped the confines of the wedding, the two women find themselves traveling by train. As the scenery flies rapidly by within the frame of the train window, the women gradually realize that they are alternately escaping from and running towards this mysterious sun-drenched place from the hazy past. It is a journey that becomes thwarted as it is simultaneously fulfilled, for as the train roars to a screeching halt, we are forced to ask ourselves whether they have arrived or departed…whether they have come or have gone.

Tableau 3:
In the shadows of palm fronds, the two women find themselves home at last, and can finally identify one another. They are mother and daughter, separated by time: one is from 1970’s California, and the other is her daughter, a youth from the present day. The journey they have taken has distorted time, but has put them both in the same place: it is Santa Monica, both now and 30 years ago, and there is finally time for them to come to terms with the mystery of what once happened there to change both of them forever.


Tableau 1
my love, je t’aime
your eyes, your lips
your hands, your face
oh yes, oh yes,
oh –
my love, my love
do not gaze at me (oh please gaze at me) –
oh, that you would kiss me (please kiss me please kiss me)
with the kisses of your mouth…
my love, ah, my love,
was not then, nor will it be
it’s just now, all together
you and me.
marry me. stay with me. forgive me.

Tableau 2:
je t’aime, enfance,
you need to know
what happened to me…
you need to know
you need to know
you need to know
and this vow I take
that from now on
i am just yours
for all time…
with this ring, i thee wed.

[passage of time]

Tableau 3:
you never told me what happened to you
please tell me
(it was a lifetime ago)
please tell me…
(now you know).

April 27, 2005 (premiere): International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Merkin Concert Hall, NYC
May 7, 2006: New York City Opera, VOX 2006 Festival, Skirball Center for the Arts, NYC
September 3, 2008: Asko|Schoenberg Ensemble, Gaudeamus New Music Week, Muziekgebouw Aan’t IJ, Amsterdam

2006 ASCAP Morton Gould Young Composer Award
2006 American Music Center CAP Grant
Jury Selection Finalist, 2008 Gaudeamus Prize