Chris Lastovicka: On the Horizon

Lastovicka_pianoChris Lastovicka swears that she never thought of the gay allegory in her opera about UFOs and alien abduction until I asked.  Maybe I’ve just been exposed to too much queer theory and too many “gay readings” of the Harry Potter books, in which the magically gifted (GLTB folks) are hopelessly lost among the muggles (straights). But the opera “Crossing the Horizon” is, after all, a collaboration between two lesbian artists, Lastovicka, a composer who lives in Philmont, New York (Columbia County) and E.M. Lauricella, a poet from Yellow Springs, Ohio.

“There are definite analogies to be drawn to the gay experience and any other experience in which someone feels like an outsider, shamed by others,” concedes Lastovicka, 36. “It is a story of a solitary person dealing with powerful feelings.”

And what gay person can’t identify with that?

Though “Crossing the Horizon” has not yet received a fully staged production, it was given a high-profile workshop performance by New York City Opera as part of the 2007 “Vox” series, showcasing promising new and germinating operas.  The 50 minute-long piece was also a finalist in the 2009 Opera Vista competition in Houston.

Working from Lauricella’s pre-existing poetry, Lastovicka created an unusual score, at least by traditional operatic standards. All of the texts are spoken by the central character, that’s “for clarity and intimacy” explains the composer, while three female vocalists sing wordlessly. A hypnotic, rather minimalist backdrop comes from the chamber ensemble of seven instruments.  The entire piece can be heard at www.UFOopera.com.

Lastovicka is not particularly prolific as a composer — only four pieces are available for purchase through her self-run publishing house Ahari Press. But that’s a deliberate choice.

“I think about the pieces I’m working on for a long time,” she says. “Sometimes months or even years go by before I start solidifying them on paper/computer. If something does not retain its meaning or structural importance after several months, it’s gone. The great thing about this is that I can listen to music I wrote 20 years ago and it still feels great.”

In addition to composing, Lastovicka works part time from home designing web sites and also teaching piano.  A native of rural South Carolina and graduate of the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, she arrived in the Hudson Valley about 13 years ago in order to be with her new love interest, Robin Andrews.

The two first met through their moms who were lunch buddies, but living 16 hours apart was difficult for a budding romance. God bless technology. “We fell in love over email,” recalls Chris. “At least she did. I fell in love the minute I saw her but then had to work my ass off to win her over.”

This past fall Robin was elected town supervisor of Claverack. “That’s similar to being mayor, which was a major feat,” explains Chris. “She became the first Democrat in 30 years to be elected to the board (in 2007) and also the first female supervisor.  And it probably goes without saying the first gay person. I am very proud of her.”

As for Chris, aided again by technology, she’s just begun crafting her second radio play. “I write the story, narrate all the parts, write the music and record everything myself,” she says. “It’s the dramatically-inclined, introverted, control freak’s dream genre!” She’s also putting the finishing touches on a new trio, “Terra Nullius” for violin, horn and piano, which is slated for a premiere later this year by the Quelque-Chose Trio of Toledo.

More of her chamber works can be heard on the CD “Fortune Has Turned.” Though released in 2005, the CD features five works written and recorded during Lastovicka’s college days in the early 90s.  But the pieces don’t feel like student works, since there’s a clear musical profile.  All of the pieces share certain traits including churning, slow moving harmonies, ruminative emotions and arched dramatic forms.

In her notes to the CD, Lastovicka paints a vivid picture of her life and environment as a music student — dingy old practice rooms, clunker pianos and a lively late night camaraderie with fellow students.  And she recently explained the disc’s title, as well:

“In my home town… I did make a concerted effort to hide my orientation. (But in college) my life completely changed. I came out of the closet, made friends who were either gay or gay friendly, and found my compositional voice. My fortunes had really turned, not because of a monetary windfall or any outward success, but because I’d begun the process of pushing off the big burden of deception I’d been carrying around for years. ‘Abraxas,’ the first piece, describes shoving off that burden. You have to destroy a world (a deceptive past) to be born into a new world.”



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