Powers of two
An electroacoustic opera in four acts

Barry Truax
Barry Truax
Genre: Staged Vocal Works, Operas, Complete Vocal Score


Instrumentation Set Number 1:
  • 1 x Tape
  • 1 x Soprano
  • 1 x Mezzo Soprano
  • 1 x Alto
  • 1 x Counter tenor
  • 1 x Tenor
  • 1 x Baritone
Programme Note:
Powers of Two is a piece of electroacoustic music theatre that explores the symbolism and dynamic tension between various pairs of opposites: the visual and auditory, the real and virtual, male and female, gay and straight. Although the characters are only partly realistic, they enact various human emotions in their search for spiritual, psychological and sexual unity.
Act I: The set consists of a video projection screen in the centre of the stage, on either side of which are banks of computer and television monitors. The video projection in this act is entirely "live" from a camera controlled by one of the dancers or is pre-recorded with the cast.
The four singers in this act, young urbanites dressed in contemporary street and formal clothes, are engaged in various relationships, none of which appear to be working. The two dancers alternately video tape the other performers (shown live on the projection screen), and "shadow" their partner of the same sex as a "virtual other". That is, the male dancer shadows the tenor (The Artist) who cannot see him, and the female dancer shadows the mezzo-soprano (The Journalist) who likewise is oblivious to her presence. The baritone (The Man) and The Journalist use cell phones, possibly connected to each other. At first, the two male and two female characters appear linked through friendship, but these disintegrate when The Man falls in love with the image of the soprano (The Woman) who he sees only on screen; however, that relationship also dissolves in conflict, ending in the apparent "death" of The Woman who sings of her love for the ideal "Orpheus" as expressed through the romantic poetry she is always reading. The Artist attempts to express his love for The Man, but is roughly rejected, as are his arguments to The Journalist about artistic expression in the face of media priorities. The Journalist who is trying to pursue a career in a man's world, is also trying to hide being a lesbian. She is tormented by self-hatred, but secretly expresses her frustrated desire for an ideal woman. Encouraged by the dancers, The Artist and Journalist resolve to pursue their respective quests, The Artist going to The Seer for spiritual guidance, and The Journalist going to The Sibyl to get a media story.
Interludes: Tape solos that allow the set to be changed. The Sequence of Earlier Heaven is a pattern found in the I Ching which is based on opposite polarities and their energies. This symbolism is explored in a composition based on environmental and percussion materials.
Act II: The act begins with The Sibyl, an oracle, seated in front of the screen, wearing a magnificent cape and singing of the Golden Age of long ago. However, she must find a successor, and hopes to do so in the person of The Journalist, who enters looking for a "story", equipped with a video camera and lights that blank out the video screen. The Journalist, a lesbian, extols the new perfection of the "golden age" of television, illustrated by processed images of female models. The Sibyl criticizes the illusory quality of these images and tells The Journalist she must forsake the materialism represented by the world of advertising which she does through a symbolic "death" in which the cape is used to cover her (with musical reference to Berg's "Lulu, my angel"). She is "reborn" to become the new Sibyl (now called Sappho) by assuming the cape and returning to the opening song.
Act III: The Artist, a gay male, arrives seeking artistic guidance from The Seer, seated atop a platform to which he is confined. The Seer seems to offer him enticing images and poetic musical excerpts on the screen and speakers. However, The Artist does not understand these images but still creates and sings beautiful poetry. In his personal quest for fulfillment, both personal and artistic, The Artist goes through states of attraction and desire, conflict and remorse, loss and grief, and finally, reconciliation and acceptance. The Seer eventually abandons his attempts to communicate with The Artist, and turns inwards via a symbolic "blinding" in order to achieve spiritual insight. The Artist similarly undergoes a transformation and appears in a magnificent costume in a symbolic union with his beloved "other".
Act IV: The entire stage resembles a video screen, enclosed by a barrier, within which is a powerful light (the 'Beyond'). The act begins with a requiem in remembrance of the dead, specifically addressed to the "too young departed", and concludes with the Woman being escorted into the Beyond by the dancers. The two other singers (The Artist and The Journalist/Sappho) enter together from the house, each clad in the kimono and cape in which they have finished Acts II and III. They move symmetrically with each other and are attracted by the dim outline of the dancers in the ganzfeld whom they kiss exactly at the knife-edge boundary before they enter to unite with those figures.
Although initially terrified by the sight of the Beyond, The Man is irresistibly drawn towards it by The Woman who is already in that space. In a reversal of the Orpheus and Eurydice story, she warns him not to look at her and tells him to approach her backwards and rely on hearing her voice. After several failed attempts, The Man is once again urged to approach by the dancers and give up his reliance on sight and reason. He finally ceases to resist and is guided backwards across the knife-edge, where he is clothed anew and is re-united with The Woman. The act ends with the joyful song "We are the stars which sing", a traditional First Nations text.
The lyric poetry used in the opera is derived from a wide range of sources including Charlotte Lennox (1729-1804), Katherine Philips (1631-64), Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Walt Whitman, R. M. Rilke (in a new translation by Norbert Ruebsaat), Aphra Behn (1640-89), Louise Labé (1525-66), Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689-1762), Giovambattista Marino (1569-1625), Guido Cavalcanti (1255-1300), Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720), and Jalal al-Din Rumi, with additional material written by the composer.

Premiere Information:
June 2, 2006, Vancouver British Columbia.; Modern Baroque Opera


  • Call Number:
  • MV 7110 T865po
  • Genre:
  • Staged Vocal Works, Operas, Complete Vocal Score
  • Date of Acquisition:
  • September 15, 2005
  • Type:
  • Print-music, Published by CMC
  • Physical Description:
  • 1 score ([91] p.) ; 28 cm
    91 Pages
    Height: 28 cm
    Width: 22 cm
    1 libretto (26 p.) ;
    26 Pages
    Height: 28 cm
    Width: 22 cm
  • Language Information
  • Language of libretto: English
  • Additional Information:
  • Soprano, mezzo-soprano, alto, counter-tenor, tenor, baritone, one male dancer, one female dancer, and 8-channel tape.

    Contains libretto.

    Recording: Cambridge Street Records
    I. Repetition
    II. The Sybil
    III. The Artist
    IV. Beyond
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Powers of Two an Electroacoustic Opera in Four Acts: Score
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Powers of two An electroacoustic opera in four acts by Barry Truax (Score)
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Powers of two An electroacoustic opera in four acts
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