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Invisible Cities

About the work:

an opera in one act
four solo voices, vocal ensemble (SATB), 11 players, and electronics
duration: 70 minutes
Invisible Cities is a Nominated Finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize

First Workshop Performances:

New York City Opera, VOX Festival
May 3, 2009, Kimmel Center at NYU, New York, NY

Semi-staged Premiere:

The Italian Academy at Columbia University and Red Light New Music
May 13, 2011, New York, NY

Commissioned by/Fully Staged Premiere:

Raulee Marcus and Stephen Block for The Industry, LA
October 19, 2013 at Union Station, LA


Available directly from Schott Music Corporation

More information, Press and Touring Info:


Listen and purchase recording:

INVISIBLE CITIES CD box set reissue with new DVD now available.

About the work:

The music of Invisible Cities is the result of my first collision with Calvino’s extraordinary novel. For years I had been unable to bridge categories of music, thinking that a work could be either lyrical or conceptually rigorous, but not both. Calvino’s novel, however, is both a tightly structured mathematical work, yet also opens with the gorgeous line:

“In the lives of emperors there is a moment which follows pride in the boundless extension of the territories we have conquered, and the melancholy and relief of knowing we shall soon give up any thought of knowing and understanding them.”

After reading that sentence—so pregnant with meaning, lyricism, mood—I immediately began composing. I imagined the sound of a unearthly resonant and gong-like prepared piano, the ringing of bells, and wind players gently blowing air through their instruments. All of this would support a lyrical and deep voiced Kublai Khan who is slow moving and sings with gravitas. I imagined there would be two women, two high sopranos, who always sing together in harmony: they would be the musical personification of the cities that pervade the novel. And of course, our Italian explorer would be a tenor, light and quick moving, melismatic, and deft.

As with Calvino, there are many formally derived components to my opera. The orchestra is split into two (left and right) halves which alternate melodies to create the whole. The left part is associated Marco Polo, the right is associated with Kublai Khan. And the opera is structured as formally as the novel, always alternating Polo and the Khan’s conversations with Polo’s stories of le città.

To borrow a term from of one of Calvino’s favorite writers, Jorge Luis Borges, Invisible Cities is a garden of forking paths. As the work progresses, you might find yourself wandering back to the same place in Union Station again and again only to find new things happening each time. In the same way, the same few musical ideas of Invisible Cities are revisited again and again, just from vastly different perspectives. As we grow and evolve, the same objects in our lives can acquire such different meanings. That above else governs what Invisible Cities is about: how our memories change as we get older, how our map of the world gets larger, and how our past is always being changed by our ever-shifting present.