Kate Soper Probes Female Captivity in 'Voices from the Killing Jar'

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For composer-soprano Kate Soper, 2014 has already meant a successful premiere of an opera and the release of a highly anticipated record. Her opera, Here be Sirens, was written as part of her Guggenheim Fellowship and is currently being presented by Dixon Place and Morningside Opera, with the composer as one of three female leads. 

In Voices from the Killing Jar, which was written between 2010 and 2012 for the Wet Ink Ensemble (of which she is a part), women in fraught circumstances take the focus in an eight-movement work that is dark, wild, and captivating.

In her 98-page dissertation on the work, Soper explains "a killing jar is a tool used by entomologists to kill butterflies and other insects without damaging their bodies." Through Soper's acrobatic soprano solo, accompanied by athletic instrumental parts and plenty of electronics, the piece lets us in on seven women – each in their own killing jars of various types ("hopeless situations, impossible fantasies...") – as well as the keepers of those jars. We see a Murakami character, Lady Macduff and Daisy Buchannan, to name just a few embattled heroines. "We don't know how all their stories end," says the composer, but "four will eventually die violently."

The instrumental parts have the musicians switching out instruments and moving about the stage. The soprano plays the clarinet and a number of percussion instruments, while a percussionist and electronics add thrilling textures. In more ways than one, it feels like a child of Berio's Circles.

On her site, Soper describes Voices from the Killing Jar as "epic-ish." She's being humble. It's exactly epic. It's the kind of piece that, if you were to see it performed live, there would be a slight gap between the end of the piece and the applause when the widespread gasps would make it sound as if this imaginary world has just escaped, leaving behind a slightly altered world.

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