Issue 11: Opera Cabal

By Graham Meyer

Majel Connery teaches in the music department at the University of California, Berkeley and runs the ensemble Opera Cabal. Soon, she plans to drop the academic position, but she wants to incorporate scholarship into Opera Cabal, bringing together artists who think and thinkers who make art to create a new kind of work. I asked her about her history and her plans.

How did you get to where you are now, ready to spring from academia to working with Opera Cabal full-time?

Recently, I feel like I've been coming to music for the wrong reasons my whole life. Music is most interesting to me when I am able to use it to help me visualize something.

I'm fully trained as a classical pianist. I was the little child prodigy who's winning regional piano competitions. I was also principal oboe of the Omaha Youth Symphony. I started doing classical voice at the end of high school. But I think my greater love is for music that happens in a staged context. Eventually I figured out I need to be in opera. The music I have been drawn to my entire life is music that demands movement and physicalization.

When I went to the U. of C., I should have been in a performance studies department. Or anthropology, or even like a dramaturgy program, an MFA in directing. But music was my credential. I have a Ph.D. in musicology, and I'm really disinterested in most of the topics musicology considers to be really vital. I wrote a dissertation that did not have a single musical figure in it. Some members of the committee could not figure out what the fuck I'm doing. I keep turning off students who come to my class. They say, "Where's the music?" I'm interested in the transformation music has to go through to become communication in a 3-D context. That's my message to the world.

Did you go straight to the U. of C. after college?

No. I took a year when I acted in New York. I got there expecting to be shot down instantly. But I realized that 95 percent of people auditioning in New York are housewives in New Jersey...

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