Upon encountering Henri Michaux's harrowing 1938 poem "Je Vous Écris D'Un Pays Lointain (I Am Writing to You From a Far-Off Country)," cellist Maya Beiser heard the voice of a young woman turning to witness both a culture and a natural world in the process of collapse. She commissioned composer Eve Beglarian to set it to music and premiered the work at Carnegie Hall in 2006.
But for years afterward, the piece troubled her. Something—or someone—was missing from it: another woman, older and wiser, who had also turned and faced catastrophe, and who could answer Michaux's witness from the other side. Beiser found her, by accident, when a tour guide through the Israeli desert pointed out a conspicuous rock formation overlooking the Dead Sea. "This is Lot's wife," he said, referring to the figure from Genesis who was turned into a pillar of salt.
Beiser enlisted director Robert Woodruff to fuse playwright (and former Duke professor) Erin Cressida Wilson's text, choreographer Karole Armitage's movement sequences, Peter Nigrini's video installations and Helga Davis' vocals into a self-styled multimedia performance piece. Beiser's name for the new genre: CelloOpera. See the world premiere of the work commissioned by Carolina Performing Arts at 7:30 p.m. —Byron Woods