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Gun Violence Focus of Upcoming UC San Diego Chamber Opera Project

Composer Lei Liang and Soprano Susan Narucki from the University of California, San Diego have won $50,000 in grant-funding from Creative Capital—a group known for applying principles of venture capital to arts financing—for their project, “Inheritance,” a proposed chamber opera addressing the complex issues of gun violence in America. The Department of Music faculty members were among 46 winners out of a pool of 2,500 artist applicants who proposed bold, innovative and genre-stretching projects in the areas of Literature, Performing Arts and Emerging Fields.

Image: Susan Narucki

Susan Narucki

“I’m truly honored that Inheritance has been chosen from many projects worthy of support,” said Narucki, who will serve as the project’s soprano producer. “I feel certain that the Creative Capital grant will enable us to find additional funding and produce the opera as we envision it.”

That vision includes a lead soprano, three female voices and a chamber ensemble within a multimedia context that examines gun culture in America through the lens of gun-manufacturer heiress Sarah Winchester’s life. According to popular belief, Winchester was an eccentric widow self-imprisoned in her labyrinth-like home, seeking refuge from the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles. The legend surrounding her life is indicative of America’s inability to separate fact and fiction within gun-debate discourse. Although the libretto for Inheritance is anchored in Winchester’s biography, this work explores her life and home as a metaphor for America’s violent legacy and deeply complex relationship with guns.

“Our goal is to create a work of high artistic values that can spark conversation about a very complicated and critical issue,” said Narucki.

Liang, interim chair of the UC San Diego music department and composer for Inheritance, will work in collaboration with Narucki; poet/librettist Matt Donovan, from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design and production designer/artist Ligia Bouton, from the University of New Mexico. According to the four artists, through investigating this woman trapped in circumstances she inherited, by portraying the ways in which Winchester is reduced to perpetual acts of ineffectual penance, by interrogating a far-reaching history that extends from 19th-century massacres of Native Americans to contemporary school shootings in America, Inheritance is a work that hopes to raise questions about complicity, atonement and gun violence in this country.

Image: Lei Liang

Lei Liang

“This is yet another project that demonstrates that there is a relevant place for new music in the on-going dialogue on important social issues,” said Liang.

Both Liang and Narucki said that UC San Diego graduate students who specialize in contemporary music performance and computer music will have the opportunity to participate in the performance and production.

Inheritance has a number of singing roles in addition to the protagonist, and I anticipate that some of the excellent graduate student singers in the DMA program will be invited to be in the production,” added Narucki.

The two music professors also envision creating satellite events with campus colleagues and community partners, and they hope that the general student population will participate and attend the event, which will be developed and workshopped at UC San Diego. Liang and Narucki anticipate that the world-premiere performances will take place in the second half of 2018 in the Experimental Theater at the Conrad Prebys Music Center. Meanwhile, those interested in following the progress of the project can check the opera’s new website.

Inheritance is supported by Creative Capital, an organization that provides winning artists, new and established, with the tools they need to realize their visions and build sustainable careers. Past winners have included the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, the choreographer Kyle Abraham and the polymath Meredith Monk.

“Above all, Creative Capital is committed to art that is innovative and which has impact in the broader cultural landscape,” noted Narucki.

For more information about the UC San Diego’s Department of Music in the Division of Arts and Humanities, please visit the website.