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Music Professor Wins Brazilian Honor


International Foundation Backs Composition of UCR Professor’s Opera

Electronic Opus Focuses on Creation of Life, Destruction of Rain Forest

(March 14, 2005)

Paulo Chagas

Paulo Chagas

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (www.ucr.edu) -- A University of California Riverside assistant professor of music has received one of the last composition grants to be awarded by Vitae, a Brazilian foundation that supports a variety of educational, cultural and social projects.

Paulo C. Chagas (pronounced SHA-guz) has $8,000 and six months to finish writing the music for his opera “eros-ion!” (Pronounced erosion.) He and Michigan poet Dan Albertson have spent two years writing the opera’s libretto in English and Portuguese. The work will be scored for three live musicians -- a soprano, a bass clarinet player and a percussionist -- and an ensemble of dancers, all interacting with installations of video and electronic music technology.

“This is a very modern project,” Chagas said. “To do a traditional opera with orchestra costs a lot of money, and you’re limited to an opera house. But today, it’s possible to have a big production and create big sonorities less expensively, using electronic sounds to extend the possibilities of the performance.”

The 51-year-old composer, hired at UCR in 2004, was born in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil, and is also a theoretician and researcher in electronic and computer music. Chagas has lived and worked in Belgium, Germany and the United States for the past 25 years. He has written more than 100 pieces of music, delving into ballet, opera, musical theatre, multimedia projects and works for instrumental and vocal ensembles.

Chagas plans to produce “eros-ion!” in Riverside and in São Paulo, Brazil, using a single cast and crew and involving UCR students in the process.
Although he is composing in the United States, Chagas was eligible to compete for Vitae funding because he is Brazilian, he said.

Over its 20 years the Vitae Foundation has awarded the equivalent of $101.6 million for scholarships, programs and projects throughout Brazil, working alongside sister foundations Antorchas in Argentina and Andes in Chile.

Based on writings of Argentinean author Jose Luis Borges, “eros-ion!” explores themes including the creation of life and destruction in the Amazonian rain forest in Brazil. The storyline concerns a wizard who dreams up a son, only to realize that he himself is someone’s dream.

“It’s a project that reflects the times -- scientists are on the edge of creating artificial life,” Chagas said. “We are making sort of a mosaic of references to the creation of history and humanity.”

The opera’s title aims to work in several ways -- eros represents sexuality and the life force; an ion is one tiny particle among innumerable others that make up the fabric of the universe; and erosion represents destruction over time.

Along with Borges and destruction in the rain forest, literary and visual touchstones in the opera include Bible passages and images of the Virgin Mary. But “eros-ion!” is not so much religious as spiritual, he said.

“We have many images to present, to show creation as a circular process,” he said. “We are reflecting that.”

Chagas’ research at UCR focuses on musical semiotics, Medieval and Renaissance polyphony, new media, music technology, aesthetics and philosophy.

The University of California, Riverside (www.ucr.edu) is a doctoral research university, a living laboratory for groundbreaking exploration of issues critical to Inland Southern California, the state and communities around the world. Reflecting California's diverse culture, UCR's enrollment has exceeded 21,000 students. The campus opened a medical school in 2013 and has reached the heart of the Coachella Valley by way of the UCR Palm Desert Center. The campus has an annual statewide economic impact of more than $1 billion.

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