Multimedia Opera Explores Crime and Infamy

Posted: March 28, 2005 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

“Erase your images of opera. This is a multimedia experience that shatters boundaries of conventional thinking,” stated a review from UPI after the 1994 premiere of Mikel Rouse’s Failing Kansas. Rouse brings his one-man show to the Center for the Arts’ Harris Theatre on Wednesday, March 30, at 8 p.m.

Based on Truman Capote’s chilling ‘nonfiction novel’ In Cold Blood, the opera, says Rouse, “[explores] a new vocal writing technique [drawing a parallel with Capote’s desire to initiate a new art form] to capture the intention of this story without resorting to a re-telling of the tale.” While the opera focuses on the events surrounding the 1959 murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kan., and the subsequent execution of the two killers, Failing Kansas goes further, exploring the minds of the killers.

Rouse performs Failing Kansas on an empty stage accompanied by electronic music pre-recorded by the artist. At the same time, film projections edited to fit the music are shown in the background. Failing Kansas was the first of Rouse’s operas to explore counterpoetry, the artist’s own invention. This highly influential technique utilizes many unpitched voices in counterpoint, with Rouse overlaying his own voice on taped tracks to create the multiple layers.

To impart the themes of religion, social justice, and fate throughout this performance, the libretto contains actual transcripts and testimony combined with fragments of verse and songs by Perry Smith, who, along with Dick Hickock, was responsible for the murders. Pentecostal hymns heard during this period (most notably those of the composer C. Austin Miles) are also juxtaposed with the spoken texts.

Failing Kansas lasts approximately 80 minutes and is performed without intermission. Tickets are $20 for adults and $10 for students. Charge by phone at 703-218-6500 or visit

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