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Culture

Greek-American Composer’s New Opera Wows in Williamsburg

October 5, 2017

NEW YORK – Greek-American composer William Antoniou’s latest work, Anathema: The Turing Opera, continues its extraordinary journey with a performance at National Sawdust in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on October 3. Anonymous Ensemble presented the concert of material from Turing, the new opera by composer Antoniou and librettist Eamonn Farrell, directed by Ashley Tata, and with music direction by David Bloom.

Turing is the story of Alan Mathison Turing as told by the artificial intelligence that he envisioned. A computer program named MIRA (Machine Intelligent Reflective Avatar) creates the libretto and music and “plays” the human singers, musicians, and dancers. She also lends her digitally synthesized operatic voice to serve as a narrator.

As noted in the description of the opera, “The story begins with young Alan Turing as he discovers that he is a homosexual and those close to him realize that his mind works in unusual ways. The second act depicts Turing’s intelligence work during World War II as he masterminds a machine that becomes capable of decoding nearly every piece of intercepted German intelligence. The third act dramatizes Turing’s vision for the future of machine intelligence as well as the brief love affair that led to his conviction for gross indecency and his subsequent suicide.”

The audience was delighted to get a taste of the United States premiere of music from this exciting, new work. Many among the enthusiastic crowd noted that the work could easily be a “rock opera” or a “musical” with its beautiful music and evocative libretto. Brian Giebler as Alan Turing and Greek artist Katia Paschou performed one of the fantastic duets, their lovely voices highlighting the poignant emotions of the piece. Also performing were Elizabeth Bouk – Mrs. Turing, Tomas Cruz – Wittgenstein, Jeremy Hirsch – Arnold, Cara Search – Mrs. Morcom, Damian Norfleet – O’Hanlon, Nicole Mitroussias – Choral Soprano, Nathaniel LaNasa – Pianist, Andrea Lodge – Pianist, and Jessica Weinstein – MIRA Performer. Liz Davito and Thomas Kavanagh both worked on the MIRA Electronics, and Mariel O’Connell is the associate producer.

As Farrell noted, the idea for a collaboration with Antoniou on an opera first came about in 2009 at a holiday party hosted by Antoniou’s mother. “I have long been obsessed with Turing and I don’t know if I had previously imagined an opera about his life, but at that moment it coalesced into a fully formed idea,” Farrell wrote in the concert program. The two artists have worked on many shows together since that time. The first act of The Turing Opera was workshopped with the National Opera of Greece in 2011. Farrell said, “We intentionally set out a long process for the creation of this piece because we wanted the opera to develop stylistically from prologue to finale and the best way to do this was to let the work reflect our own evolutions as artists and collaborators over the years.”

According to his biography, Antoniou was born in Boston, raised in New York City, and now lives in Athens, Greece. He began his studies and career at an early age. After studying privately with Richard Danielpour, Lucas Foss, Neil Ginsberg, Roger Ames, Dan Carter, and Kim D. Sherman, Antoniou was accepted to the Tisch School Of The Arts Music Theater Summer Program at age 14, and then to The New Dramatists’ Composer/Librettist Studio at age 16. Since then, he has worked with many theater and film artists in the United States and abroad including Lee Breuer, Giles Foreman, Eamonn Farrell, Christa Maiwald, Will Taylor, Ersi Pita, Panagiotis Christopoulos, Dimitris Kollatos, and Phaedra Soutou. His songs have been performed by renowned singers including Isaias Matiaba, Janelle Lannan, Jason Papowitz, and Margarita Sygeniotou. Antoniou’s compositions have been performed by many classical ensembles and soloists such as The National Opera of Greece, L’Anima String Quartet, Aeolos Woodwind Quintet, The Greek Contemporary Music Ensemble, The Municipal Orchestra of Athens, The Orchestra of Patras, Nikos Zarkos, Thanasis Zervas, Saulius Sondeckis, ALEA III, and Idee Fix.

Widely considered the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing was an English computer scientist, mathematician, crypt-analyst, philosopher, and theoretical biologist. Among his many accomplishments was his work breaking the code of the Enigma machine during World War II which shortened the war by two years and saved millions of lives. The 2014 film The Imitation Game, based partly on a biography of Turing, recounted the WWII code-breaking story. The film earned eight Academy Award nominations including Best Actor for Benedict Cumberbatch as Turing and Best Supporting Actress for Keira Knightley, and won for Best Adapted Screenplay.

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