The Tree Opera Project

Libretto by Roxanne Korda

Composed by Oliver Farrow 

Stage and costume design by Wanshu Li

"Is it really so hard to imagine the things we don’t see? Dropping down below the canopy, step under supporting branches, divide the flowering floor. What lies beneath? Under the compost where we walk, there are sounds we haven’t heard. A whole life we didn’t see. A whole world of many and one. We have to slow down. Steady our heart beats and open our minds. 

Life down here works differently. It does not hurry from A to B. Lives are longer and far more still. But these lives are strong and wise. The ground itself holds an ancient knowledge which permeates longer than humans have known. 

I’m talking about the roots of the trees, and the fungal networks. The mycorrhizal passages that talk and respond, give and take, support and integrate. All the wiry humus beneath our feet. Those dead looking corridors are not dead at all. And when there is a problem they talk."

---Roxanne Korda

The Tree Opera is a project of cross-disciplinary cooperation that involves opera singers,  musicians, dancers and jewellery designer. The opera is made up of seven scenes which is written by Roxanne Korda and composed by Oliver Farrow. After a few rehearsals at the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and the Shell Gallery at the Parkside building, an open rehearsal was held at the Rougeplay Theater on August 30th, 2021.

This research blog documents the entire research process and reflects what I discovered and learned during this activity. First, I will briefly introduce the research aims of this project and my reserach position in it. Then I will introduce the design and making process of the wearable and interactive objects for the performance, and  how being a part of it has evolved my function as a jewellery designer and maker into numerous roles. 

The main body story of the opera is based on the network of the roots of the tree under the ground. 'To communicate through the network, trees send chemical, hormonal and slow-pulsing electrical signals, which scientists are just beginning to decipher. Trees also communicate through the air, using pheromones and other scent signals'(Grant, 2013). Although they are so unfamiliar to us, all creatures are following their own system and building their networks. Similar to human, for example, how do we communicate with people by cells, virus, such as the pandemic? How this connection is changing ours lives? Do we really know who we are? When we are feeling still, but our heart is beating, our ceilings are moving, the blood is running through the body. From imagining the network build up by the intelligent tree to imagining the micro version of the world in the human body, organic life follows the laws of the nature invisually and tacitly. 

Light and darkness

The eye is the organ of distance and separation, whereas touch is the sense of nearness, intimacy and affection. The eye surveys, controls and investigates, whereas touch approaches and caresses. During the overpowering emotional experiences, we tend to close off the distancing sense of vision; we close the eyes when dreaming, listening to music, or caressing our beloved ones. Deep shadows and darkness are essential, because they dim the sharpness of vision, make depth and distance ambiguous, and invite unconscious peripheral vision and tactile fantasy.

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Digital drawing 1

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Digital drawing 2.

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Digital drawing 3.

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Digital drawing 4.

Performed by Wanshu Li at the LAB, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire, Birmingham City University. 19.08.2021

Performed by Wanshu Li at the Shell, Parkside Building, Birmingham City University. 19.08.2021

Performed by Roxanne Korda and Wanshu Li at the Shell, Parkside Building, Birmingham City University. 25.08.2021

Performed by Wanshu Li at the Shell, Parkside Building, Birmingham City University. 19.08.2021

Performed by Wanshu Li at LAB, Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Performed by Wanshu Li at the Shell, Parkside Building, Birmingham City University. 19.08.2021

The Tree Opera, open rehearsal at RougePlay Theater. 30.08.2021

References:

Grant R. (2013)Do Trees Talk to Each Other? Available at https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-whispering-trees-180968084/