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Perfect Lives Manhattan: Mobile program

November 1, 2011



an opera by Robert Ashley
arranged and performed by VARISPEED

On their day off in a small Midwest town, two traveling musicians and two local siblings hatch a plan to take all the money from the Bank to Indiana for one day and then bring it back, thus performing the perfect crime… or a work of art.

Raoul de Noget – A traveling singer of indeterminate age
Buddy – “The world’s greatest piano player”
Helen and John – Oldsters who have a special arrangement
Ed and Gwyn – Young couple who elope to Indiana
Isolde – Nearing thirty and not yet spoken for, “D’s” sister
“D” – Captain of the Football Team and assistant at the Bank
Dwayne – A friend who joins D and the Elopers
Will and Ida – Isolde and D’s parents; Will is the local sheriff
Rodney – The bartender. His companion, Baby, studies piano
Jennifer, Kate, Eleanor, Linda and Susie – Bank tellers

11:00am – THE PARK
Washington Square Park – East Side entrance
Raoul de Noget, a traveling singer sits on the bed in a motel room overlooking a park thinking it over.
Gelsey Bell (lead), Brian McCorkle (chorus + synth), Dave Ruder (chorus + guitar), Aliza Simons (chorus + euphonium), Paul Pinto (chorus + drums)

1:00pm – THE BANK
Citibank Plaza – 555 LaGuardia Place
Isolde, Raoul and Buddy sneakily draw attention to the fact that The Elopers have taken all the money in the bank.
Brian McCorkle (lead), Dave Ruder (guitar), Aliza Simons (euphonium), Paul Pinto (drums), Gelsey Bell (synth)

Essex Street Market – 120 Essex Street
Thinking about consumerism and wearing out, Helen and John (The Oldsters) are shopping on their day off.
Paul Pinto (lead), Gelsey Bell + Dave Ruder (chorus), Brian McCorkle (synth), Dave Grollman (snare), Aliza Simons + Erin Rogers (melodicas), Jeffrey Young (violin)

5:00pm – THE CHURCH
Trinity Lutheran – 602 E 9th Street
Having traveled to Indiana, The Elopers  find an odd Justice of the Peace, but his words contain more than they bargained for.
Dave Ruder (lead), Brian McCorkle (guitar + piano), Aliza Simons (euphonium + percussion), Gelsey Bell (chorus + melodica), Paul Pinto (chorus + piano), Erin Rogers (chorus + saxophone), Jeffrey Young (chorus + violin)

Performa Hub Schoolyard – 233 Mott Street
Watching a picnic from the doorway of her mother’s house, Isolde counts the days.
Aliza Simons (lead), Paul Pinto + Dave Ruder (chorus), Gelsey Bell (chorus + synth), Brian McCorkle (piano), Woody Leslie (tabla)

43 Great Jones Street
At his wife, Ida’s prompting, Will, the local sheriff, goes over the events of the day.
Aliza Simons (narrator), Mendi Obadike (Will), Keith Obadike (Ida), Ellen O’Meara (flute), Brian McCorkle (synth), Tom Swafford + Jeffrey Young (violins), Gelsey Bell, Paul Pinto + Dave Ruder (chorus)

11:00pm – THE BAR
Tom & Jerry’s – 288 Elizabeth Street
Rodney, the bartender, meets his match: the silver-tongued piano player, Buddy.
Brian McCorkle (narrator), Paul Pinto (Buddy + drums), Gelsey Bell + Dave Ruder + Aliza Simons (chorus), Dave Malloy (piano), Rick Burkhardt (accordion), Jeffrey Young (violin), Ellen O’Meara (flute), Woody Leslie (tabla + euphonium)

Perfect Lives Manhattan is a daylong, site-specific performance of Robert Ashley’s 1983 opera adapted by Varispeed. The performance consists of seven half-hour episodes, each at a different location in the Lower East Side, Soho, and adjacent neighborhoods.

Each episode has been newly arranged by a member of the group and endeavors to bring together musicians, performers, fans, and community members alike in a celebration of this American opera.

Performa 11, the fourth edition of the internationally acclaimed biennial of new visual art performance presented by Performa, will be held in New York City from November 1–21, 2011. The three-week biennial will showcase new work by more than 100 of the most exciting artists working today, in an innovative program breaking down the boundaries between visual art, music, dance, poetry, fashion, architecture, graphic design, and the culinary arts.

Curated by Mark Beasley

Performa Producer: Esa Nickle

Production Manager: Lillie DeArmon

Sound: Dave Malloy

Program/Map design: Paul Pinto

Printed by Carlos Rosa

Thanks to our hosts: the City of New York, George at Essex Stret Market, Pastor Phil at Trinity Lutheran, Susan Rosenfeld, and Jo at Tom & Jerry’s. A huge special thanks to Bob for your guidance and inspiration. A massive hug-filled thanks to Mimi for your support and enthusiasm. And thanks to Judith Mender, Herbert Go, Barry Hoggard & James Wagner, John Melillo, Brian Ruder, Jim Altieri, David Drexler, David McCarthy, Erin Seeba, Kriegfried Ueberallgemein, Alissa Talley and the three anonymous donors for your donation to our documentation campaign. Thanks to Robert O’Haire for video recording and Dave Malloy for running sound and holding down the bar. And lastly, a warm thanks to Performa, especially Mark Beasley, Esa Nickle, and the wonderful Lillie DeArmon, for your support.


Robert Ashley, a distinguished figure in American contemporary music, holds an international reputation for his work in new forms of opera and multi-disciplinary projects. His recorded works are acknowledged classics of language in a musical setting. He pioneered opera-for-television.The operatic works of Robert Ashley are distinctly original in style, and distinctly American in their subject matter and in their use of American language. Fanfare Magazine calls Ashley’s Perfect Lives “nothing less than the first American opera…”, and The Village Voice comments, “When the 21st Century glances back to see where the future of opera came from, Ashley, like Monteverdi before him, is going to look like a radical new beginning.”

Varispeed is a newly formed collective of composer-performers from music and theatre groups Panoply Performance Laboratory, thingNY, and Why Lie? that creates site-specific, sometimes-participatory, oftentimes-durational, forevermore-experimental events. Founded by Aliza Simons, Dave Ruder, Paul Pinto, Brian McCorkle, and Gelsey Bell, Varispeed came together in June 2011 to perform a twelve-hour celebration of Robert Ashley’s Perfect Lives. Future projects include, among other all-day musical events, John Cage’s Empty Words.

Gelsey Bell is a singer, songwriter, and scholar. She has four albums of original work and recently appeared on Jay Vilnai’s Shakespeare Songs. She just premiered a new work, SCALING, and will be appearing in Robert Ashley’s That Morning Thing. She is in thingNY, a PhD Candidate in performance studies at NYU, and the Critical Acts Editor for TDR.

Brian McCorkle is a composer/performer/digital artist, currently co-Director of the Panoply Performance Laboratory with Esther Neff. He can be seen in upcoming performances at the Kitchen as part of Robert Ashley’s That Morning Thing and the COIL Festival (as part of Too Shy to Stare by Davis Freeman).

Paul Pinto is a composer, vocalist and founding director of thingNY. Paul has four albums: The Gentlemen, Every Note on the Piano, NUDES, and For Stefanos Tsigrimanis. Upcoming November performances: thingNY (11th and 13th), That Morning Thing at the Kitchen (19-21) and the Stefanos Tsigrimanis Memorial Concert at NYU (29th).

Dave Ruder is a creative type who’s been based in Brooklyn since 2005.  He first encountered Perfect Lives in 2004 on VHS in the Wesleyan University Science Library.  Ben Birdsall was key in initiating Dave’s first viewing.  Other Ashley pieces Dave would love to stage: Empire & The Trial of Anne Opie Wehrer…

Radio and sound artist Aliza Simons was born and raised in SoHo. She first discovered Perfect Lives (Private Parts) in her father’s cassette tape collection in middle school. Things were never the same. Upcoming: That Morning Thing (Nov. 19-21), Panopoly Performance Lab Conference of Work at Grace Space (Nov. 12), Contact Mic Making Workshop at In/Out Fest (Nov. 13).

Dave Malloy is a composer/performer/sound designer. He is the winner of an OBIE Award and a Jonathan Larson Grant, and is the composer for Banana Bag & Bodice. Recent shows include Three Pianos, Beardo, Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage, The Sewers, Sandwich, Clown Bible, and (The 99-cent) Miss Saigon. Upcoming:  Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, an electropop opera based on Tolstoy’s War & Peace, at Ars Nova. He lives in Brooklyn.

Mendi + Keith Obadike

Erin Rogers

Jeffrey Young

Woody Leslie is a book artist and musician in residence at Chooklyn Farms Studios & Performance Space in Brooklyn. He is the founder of One Page Productions (, an artist book printing press that specializes in books made out of only a single sheet of 8.5 x 11 paper.

Ellen O’Meara

Tom Swafford

Dave Grollman is a percussionist from NYC who performs freely improvised music. He performs in art galleries, tiki bars, and venues of curious ambience made more curious by his mongrel sounds. David bows, scrapes, blows, slaps, rubs, caresses, abuses, and generally tests the limits of his instrument. Anything is game. Anything may be a participant if the musical conversation calls for it. Artist, instrument, audience, and environment become ambiguous terms, conspiring in a theatrical exploration of chance dynamics and serendipitous exchanges.

Rick Burkhardt

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