Tesla, recorded

Violet Fire, an opera about Nikola TeslaVio­let Fire, the opera about Niko­la Tes­la that I worked on as libret­tist with com­pos­er Jon Gib­son, is final­ly get­ting a stu­dio record­ing! It’s a lit­tle late—the world pre­miere and U.S. pre­miere hap­pened in Bel­grade and New York in 2006—but I’m still excit­ed. Last week, Jon con­vened a stel­lar group of musi­cians at a record­ing stu­dio in Brook­lyn to lay down tracks for the record­ing.

Jon Gibson, Gregory Purnhagen, Dean Sharenow
Jon Gib­son look­ing over score, left; singer Gre­go­ry Purn­hagen, cen­ter; record­ing engi­neer Dean Sharenow, right

I was able to sit in one day as the solo singers record­ed their parts. They includ­ed Scott Mur­phree, who played our orig­i­nal Tes­la; Peter Stew­art, our orig­i­nal Mark Twain; Solange Mer­din­ian, as Tesla’s friend Katharine John­son; Gre­go­ry Purn­hagen, as the Reporter; and Marie Mas­cari as the White Dove. The great Mick Rossi led the record­ing as music direc­tor and con­duc­tor.

Scott Murphree as Tesla
Scott Mur­phree, singing the part of Tes­la

Each char­ac­ter in the opera is there to show a dif­fer­ent facet of Tesla’s life, from the most inti­mate to the most pub­lic. Mark Twain, who sensed the mag­ni­tude of the inventor’s break­throughs in alter­nat­ing cur­rent and wire­less trans­mis­sion, sings in praise of his accom­plish­ments and glob­al influ­ence, while the Reporter offers com­men­tary on Tesla’s wax­ing and then wan­ing fame. Katharine John­son sings plain­tive­ly to her “dear and silent friend” who, devot­ed to his work, seems to have “no human needs.” Mar­ried to the writer and edi­tor Robert John­son, Katharine host­ed Tes­la at many din­ner par­ties. Her elo­quent­ly emo­tion­al let­ters to him reveal a deep but one-sided attach­ment to the inven­tor.

The real Mar­garet Storm wrote a book, The White Dove, that gave the opera its name: in it, she described Tes­la as “Prince of the Vio­let Fire,” and told of his being born on Venus and then trans­port­ed to Earth to offer his oth­er­world­ly knowl­edge to human­i­ty. And the char­ac­ter of the White Dove is inspired by a pigeon that Tes­la, late in life, admit­ted to lov­ing and car­ing for in the parks of New York. The opera took form around the sense that this bird should be allowed to sing.

Marie Mascare as the White Dove
Marie Mas­cari, singing the role of the White Dove

It was won­der­ful to hear Jon’s music brought to life again by these great singers and musi­cians. In the sin­u­ous melod­ic lines and slid­ing chords, I hear the sad­ness woven in with Tesla—not just from his self-imposed human iso­la­tion. When Scott Mur­phree, as Tes­la, sang the line “An end to suf­fer­ing…,” it car­ried both Tesla’s grand, glob­al-scale ambi­tions, and also the fail­ure to achieve them that would inevitably fol­low. Then there’s this line sung by the Reporter, tak­en near-ver­ba­tim from a poignant head­line in the New York World: “At night and in secret, Niko­la Tes­la lav­ish­es his love on pigeons.” Great explo­sions of ener­gy, secret com­mu­nion with birds, oth­er­world­ly visions—all these things are part of Tes­la, and they’re all in the opera, real­ized through Jon’s beau­ti­ful music.

After the tracks are edit­ed, a record­ing of Vio­let Fire should be available—soon, I hope. I’ll let you know.



Also pub­lished on Medi­um.


8 thoughts on “Tesla, recorded”

  1. At last! From the head­line I thought maybe you’d found some secret record­ing of Tes­la him­self, but this is even bet­ter. Can’t wait to hear the mar­velous opera again.

    1. Okay, I admit it was a lit­tle bit of a teas­er! That would be amaz­ing if we could hear Tes­la speak — and you’d think he might have been record­ed, since he was so famous. Maybe he didn’t want to have any­thing to do with Edison’s wax cylin­ders?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *