NIAGARA FALLS, 1959: an in-the-round swirl of sound and song concerning the boyhood drama of the composer
NIAGARA FALLS, 1959 is a new music-theater work in development by composer Bobby Previte which deals with the composer’s boyhood, framed by the collision of sexuality, corruption, and natural wonder in his hometown of Niagara Falls, New York.
Scored for four Hammond Organs on the corners of the performance space - each with it's own spinning "Leslie" speaker - drum set, and boy soprano, NIAGARA FALLS, 1959 features a libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann and is directed by Daniel Fish. The piece uses the physical separation of the organs and their pulsing qualities to physically evoke the power, volume, and swirl of both the Falls and the famous "Whirlpool" rapids. The whirling, three-dimensional immersive experience will be a moving tectonic soundscape, functioning as autonomous sonic cells and parts of an orchestral whole. Set against this raw power is a lone boy soprano, searching for order in the chaos.
Niagara Falls occupies a mythic place in the American psyche. One of the "Seven Wonders of the World,” it is at once the most iconic tourist attraction on earth, a massive hydroelectric power source for fully a quarter of the United States, and for years the home base of the largest crime syndicate in the Northeast. It is also destitute, depressed, and dysfunctional – the poster child for everything that can go wrong in a political system riddled with graft.
Before airplanes and amplifiers, the Falls was arguably one of the loudest sounds you could hear on Earth. People came from all over the world, on a pilgrimage of sorts, to experience a spiritual awakening in the presence of the Falls.The local Tuscarora Nation believed Niagara was the “sacred door” to the continent. Over time, this natural wonder devolved into a cheap attraction. The history of the city of Niagara Falls and that of it's renowned natural wonder are matched in drama and scope: the “discovery” of the great cataract by westerners, leaving the most eloquent writers of the day dumbstruck with awe; the carnival atmosphere in the 19th century, when people paid to line the edges of the river to watch as live animals on barges were hurled to their deaths over the brink, daredevils walked on tightropes over the whitewater, and thrill seekers tried to “conquer” the drop in barrels; Robert Moses' 1960s Power Project, which brutally ripped the Tuscarora from their reservation and decamped them into trailers, and then castrated the Falls by cutting the water flow in half, the Love Canal, where Lois Gibbs, a single mom, led the first real environmental movement in the United States, and on and on. Welcome to Niagara Falls - the place that represented all that was pure, wild, and natural - where the water flow is now totally controlled, dialed up and down for tourist season, and where, of all places on earth, the pulverized desk of Tom Brokaw, thought to be infested with anthrax, was buried, now residing in the city that boasts the most toxic dumps per square mile than anywhere in the country.
NIAGARA FALLS, 1959 is the story of the composer and his family, first generation Italian immigrants who came over on a two-week steerage ticket to work the coal mines. A story of displacement, discord and disappointment, set against both the omnipresent thunder of the Falls, and the bizarre history of the “Cataract City.”