CULTURE, MUSIC INTERVIEW

Roxanna Walitzki Brings Opera Into the 21st Century

0 Comments 18 May 2016

roxanna walitzki

Opera singer Roxanna Walitzki’s speaks about bringing the form into the 21st century and the themes behind her debut EP Exquisite Corpse.

By Daniel Barron

 

 

Roxanna Walitzki first left an impression on me at an art opening in Culver City this past February. It was sort of hard for her not to. Her sinewy frame asserted a regal poise as it was wrapped in hand-embroidered pearl stockings, a black dress, and a custom built-face cage, giving her an appearance somewhere between high fashion muse and fetish model vixen. Hardly what one would call low-key.

I was already well familiar with the aesthetic of her older sister Redd, whose lush renderings of verdant forests and enchanting nymphs have gained international recognition. Roxanna, with her ethereal countenance, could have walked right out of one of her sister’s paintings, because, in fact, she had. Roxanna has served as a frequent model for Redd, most recently in a series of works for her solo show “Exquisite Corpse,” which ran at San Francisco’s Modern Eden Gallery from October 10th, 2015 to November 7th.

Roxanna, a self-proclaimed “operatic iconoclast,” is no less prolific. The German-born, Seattle-based model, photographer, and classical singer was trained in vocal performance at NYU and the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Through a distinct combination of elaborate fashions, haunting performance art, and experimental video, she hopes to preserve and even renew the craft of classical music

Her debut EP, Exquisite Corpse, represents a magnetic statement of purpose by infusing the conventions of opera with modern electronic textures, including gauzy synths, frantic vocal glitches, and energetic guitar riffs by Anomie Belle. These arrangements immerse the listener in a spellbinding aural fog worth getting lost in. Exquisite Corpse will be released this Friday in digital format with a limited print edition of images, featuring Roxanna as the subject, from Redd’s solo show to which it serves as a companion piece. A teaser for the release can be viewed below. In the following interview, Roxanna reflects on the collaboration process, the themes that drive her work, and the emotions she inspires from her audience.

 

Exquisite Corpse EP Teaser

 

How intertwined was this EP with the creation of Redd’s art show? Were they developed concurrently or was it inspired from it?
Redd and I approached her art show and my album as a collaboration from the beginning. I performed earlier versions of the six songs at her opening in October, and I continued transforming the recorded versions for months after, until I felt they were complete. We began by talking about the themes that we wanted to focus on in this body of work. The main inspiration came from the myth of Chloris, Goddess of Flowers, who happens upon the dead body of a nymph while walking in a forest. Saddened by her death, Chloris transforms the nymph into a flower, infusing her with a new version of life. Redd captured the sense of this story by painting the figurative centerpiece, which features me as the deceased nymph with new flowers sprouting from my chest, and smaller montages that show the fluidity between decay and new growth. For my part, I selected musical choices that both textually and musically related to the story, and gave them my own version of new life by arranging and producing them in this way.
redd walitzki
When you become your sister’s muse and view the finished works do you see it as an opportunity to become someone or something else or do you look and think, “This is me.”?
It’s always a little of both. I have been lucky to appear in Redd’s work countless times over the years, and the experience is simultaneously transformative and authentic to who I am. The vision for her paintings is always hers, and they are quite different from the photographic portraits I take of myself, but Redd does have a gift for bringing out and capturing the essence of her muses. Because we are sisters, we have an uncommon level of ease and understanding and are able to push each other outside of what feels comfortable. Coming from a background of opera and theater, I like to create a backstory for whoever I am portraying, and find myself stepping into that story and emotional space while shooting the references. The three portraits in Exquisite Corpse feel particularly true to who I am, because of their quiet but deeply emotional qualities, and because I inhabited the same realm so intensely while working on the music.
Both the album and art show are centered around the themes of rebirth. How did that subject intrigue you and Redd? What meaning does that have for the both of you?
Redd and I were both interested in creating work that is macabre yet beautiful, and in some way hopeful around the idea of death. In order for life to continue things must die and be transformed. Rebirth is never literal, but life does continue. In her paintings, both decay and rebirth are shown as beautiful, and it is hard to pinpoint where one life ends and another begins. I wanted to create something similar with the music, by blurring the lines of what was already written and composed and what was newly transformed and created.
redd walitzki
In your bio it reads that you hope to keep classical music alive and current. When did it become a point of interest to you and how have you felt that it can be made approachable to modern tastes?
The idea of rebirth is incredibly important to me in the context of classical music because I see it as an art-form that needs to be reborn in order to continue. I have searched for ways to achieve this for as long as I have studied and performed classical music, but my methods have varied. In the past, I focused on creating performances that feel fresh and engaging by bringing classical music to unusual venues like art-openings, fashioning avant-garde costumes, and by creating artistic videos, all of which has served the cause.
Recently I began creating my own arrangements and producing them electronically (my first project being Dido’s Lament, released last year), though the idea had been floating around my head for a long time. I have a lot of love and respect for certain forms of electronic music, and noticed that people can relate to it even when it is highly experimental and complex. I think that our ears have grown accustomed to certain types of sounds. Classical compositions for voice and piano no longer feel current like they once did, even when the chordal and melodic writing is on par with the best of interesting contemporary music. So I figured, why not try to fuse those sonic spheres? I see adding to classical compositions in this style as a way of engaging our modern ears and tastes without taking anything away from the original. My hope is that it makes the music that I feel so passionately about accessible to people who would have otherwise passed it by.
redd walitzki
Exquisite Corpse moved me on a profound intuitive level. I’m still trying to process my feelings about it. What have you most hoped to evoke from the listener?
I think the best and most meaningful emotional responses are the ones that we don’t quite know how to process, so your reaction is an absolute pleasure for me to read! Our responses to music are incredibly personal, and my own feelings about compositions are constantly changing and full of complex layers, so there isn’t a particular feeling I hoped to evoke from the listener. Rather, I hope that listeners have a reaction, whatever that may feel like!
roxanna walitzki

Roxanna Walitzki, as photographed by Redd Walitzki.

 

What figures or icons in art and music meant the most to you growing up. Do any of them continue to influence you today?
The first classical singer that I heard when I was young was Brigitte Fassbaender, who made me fall in love with the genre. I still listen to her recordings of German art-songs all the time, and never tire of her overwhelming expressiveness. She has a way of infusing every word, line, and musical gesture with meaning, and it is this kind of nuanced detail and complete embodiment that I also strive for when performing, recording, and creating work in general. On the other end of the spectrum, I draw a lot of inspiration from longtime favorite artists like Radiohead, Amon Tobin, or Björk, who create non-classical music that moves me as much as the greatest classical compositions, through the sounds and compositions they create.
Outside of music, one of the greatest influences on me is Lee Alexander McQueen, who transformed fashion into highly emotional art. What he achieved in his short lifetime will probably continue to inspire me for the rest of my creative days, and I can only hope to create work that pushes boundaries and expectations as beautifully as his did.
redd walitzki roxanna walitzki

Roxanna and Redd Walitzki at the opening for Exquisite Corpse at the Modern Eden Gallery. Photo: Kim Huynh.

Exquisite Corpse is available on Friday, May 20th. Give it a spin HERE.
All art by Redd Walitzki. View more of her work on her website.

Learn more about Roxanna Walitzki on her website.

Subscribe to Roxanna Walitzki’s YouTube channel.

Follow her on Instagram.

Follow Roxanna Walitzki on Soundcloud.

 

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- who has written 419 posts on Yay! LA | Arts & Culture Magazine.

Rudderless college graduate Daniel Barron founded Yay! LA Magazine on a love of writing, passion for the arts, and a firm belief that people really like talking about themselves. He contributed to a number of publications, including LA Music Blog and the defunct The Site Unscene, before deciding to cover arts and entertainment the way he wanted to read it. He works as a freelance writer and digital PR consultant in his current home of Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter at @YayDanielBarron.

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