“Ashley rightfully understands that an American composer cannot develop opera as a medium unless the Americanness dominates, as it has done so with television, our home-grown Forum, Bayreuth, and Ganges all for the price of one. Perfect Lives is nothing less than the first American opera …” – Fanfare
“In the scope of its ambition and the sheer scale of its production, Perfect Lives is a milestone both in video and in music, a brilliant collaboration among a host of important artists.” – Artforum
At the center of this landmark work first completed for broadcast in 1983 is the hypnotic voice of Robert Ashley, whose continuous song narrates the events of the story, supported by “Blue” Gene Tyranny’s piano inventions and choral commentary by Jill Kroesen and David Van Tieghem. The opera follows two musicians who have come to a small town in the Midwest to entertain at the Perfect Lives Lounge, fall in with two locals, and hatch a plan to remove a sizable amount of money from The Bank. If they are caught, it will be a crime—but if they are not, it will be Art.
Ashley, Tyranny and Peter Gordon first performed three of the opera’s seven episodes at The Kitchen in January 1978, leading Carlota Schoolman and Mary Griffin to invite Ashley to make the work for television. John Sanborn came on board as Television Director. A year later, two more episodes had been added for performances at DTW. The first presentations of all seven episodes were in the fall of 1980 at the Mickery Theater, Amsterdam, followed by the Festival d’Automne in Paris.
After three years of fund-raising and development and continual touring, the Kitchen obtained finishing funds from Great Britain’s Channel Four, and Perfect Lives was completed in the fall of 1983. SInce then, the opera’s reputation has grown. Lovely Music made it available on CD and DVD, and there were numerous closed-circuit screenings and two major publications of the opera’s libretto (Burning Books in 1991 and the Dalkey Archive Press in 2011).
While Ashley and his cohort stopped performing the piece live in 1983, at least four performance ensembles (Varispeed, Matmos, Trystero, and Alex Waterman’s Spanish language Vidas Perfectas) created live versions of the opera, arrangements inspired by the Perfect Lives video. Lovely Music commissioned an HD upgrade of Perfect Lives from Dean Winkler, and Lovely’s new Blu-Ray package will be released in May 2023.
Created by ROBERT ASHLEY
“BLUE” GENE TYRANNY
DAVID VAN TIEGHEM
Produced for television by THE KITCHEN for CHANNEL FOUR TELEVISION – U.K.
Seven 25-minute episodes remastered in 1080P HD will be projected.