Three Tales (opera)

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Three Tales
Video-opera by Steve Reich
Steve Reich2.jpg
The composer in 2008
Based on
May 12, 2002 (2002-05-12)

Three Tales is a video-opera in three acts (titled Hindenburg, Bikini and Dolly) with music by American composer Steve Reich and visuals by Beryl Korot, his wife. It is scored for two sopranos, three tenors, string quartet, percussion, keyboards, and pre-recorded audio. Its premiere was at the Vienna Festival on May 12, 2002; the BBC had commissioned a version for television broadcast four months later. The 12-minute tale Hindenburg had been written (and recorded) in 1998, while the remaining tales were completed (and recorded) in the year of the premiere.

Opera Artform combining sung text and musical score in a theatrical setting

Opera is a form of theatre in which music has a leading role and the parts are taken by singers, but is distinct from musical theater. Such a "work" is typically a collaboration between a composer and a librettist and incorporates a number of the performing arts, such as acting, scenery, costume, and sometimes dance or ballet. The performance is typically given in an opera house, accompanied by an orchestra or smaller musical ensemble, which since the early 19th century has been led by a conductor.

Steve Reich American composer

Stephen Michael Reich is an American composer who, along with La Monte Young, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass, pioneered minimal music in the mid to late 1960s.

Beryl Korot is an American video artist.


The musical narrative of Three Tales follows "speech melodies" of pre-recorded interviews, and in many ways resembles Reich's works The Cave (1990–1993), City Life (1995) and Different Trains (1988). The libretto of Three Tales can be found on the website of the composer (see bottom of page).

<i>The Cave</i> (opera) multimedia opera in three acts by Steve Reich to an English libretto by Beryl Korot.

The Cave is a multimedia opera in three acts by Steve Reich to an English libretto by his wife Beryl Korot. It was first performed in 1993 in Vienna by the Steve Reich Ensemble, conducted by Paul Hillier. The title "The Cave" refers to The Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, where Abraham and Sarah are buried.

Different Trains is a three-movement piece for string quartet and tape written by Steve Reich in 1988. Its original release was performed by the Kronos Quartet and won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition in 1989.

Libretto text used for an extended musical work

A libretto is the text used in, or intended for, an extended musical work such as an opera, operetta, masque, oratorio, cantata or musical. The term libretto is also sometimes used to refer to the text of major liturgical works, such as the Mass, requiem and sacred cantata, or the story line of a ballet.

Three Tales is a response to nearly a hundred years of modern technology, concerning the explosion of the Hindenburg, nuclear testings on Bikini Atoll, and the cloning of Dolly the sheep (drawing connections between genetic engineering and artificial intelligence). The different stories are told from various perspectives, with speech culled from interviews with eyewitnesses, audiovisual documentary material of both the Hindenburg and Bikini tragedies, and experts in computer science (e.g. Marvin Minsky and Kevin Warwick), artificial intelligence (Rodney Brooks), Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and genetic engineering (Richard Dawkins).

<i>Hindenburg</i> disaster Airship fire, 6 May 1937

The Hindenburg disaster occurred on May 6, 1937, in Manchester Township, New Jersey, United States. The German passenger airship LZ 129 Hindenburg caught fire and was destroyed during its attempt to dock with its mooring mast at Naval Air Station Lakehurst. On board were 97 people ; there were 36 fatalities.

Bikini Atoll Atoll in Republic of the Marshall Islands

Bikini Atoll, sometimes known as Eschscholtz Atoll between the 1800s and 1946, is a coral reef in the Marshall Islands consisting of 23 islands surrounding a 229.4-square-mile (594.1 km2) central lagoon. The atoll's inhabitants were relocated in 1946, after which the islands and lagoon were the site of 23 nuclear tests by the United States until 1958.

Cloning process of producing similar populations of genetically identical individuals by Changing Nucleus

Cloning is the process of producing genetically identical individuals of an organism either naturally or artificially. In nature, many organisms produce clones through asexual reproduction. Cloning in biotechnology refers to the process of creating clones of organisms or copies of cells or DNA fragments. Beyond biology, the term refers to the production of multiple copies of digital media or software.


The three tales (acts) divide into various sub-sections:

Act I – Hindenburg

It could not have been a technical matter – Nibelung Zeppelin – A very impressive thing to see – I couldn't understand It

Act II – Bikini

In the air I – The atoll I – On the ships I – In the air II – The atoll II – On the ships II – In the air III – The atoll III - On the ships III - Coda

Act III – Dolly

Cloning - Dolly - Human body machine - Darwin - Interlude - Robots/Cyborgs/Immortality



Andrew McGregor wrote a positive review for BBC Music, stating that the video for the third act (“Dolly”) was the most effective and arguing that “Reich and Korot can't give you the answer [to where the human race is headed], but they frame the questions more memorably and insistently than most.” [2] Kila Packett also gave the opera a positive review in PopMatters ; she argued that the first act (“Hindenburg”) is the most musically satisfying and the third act the most thought-provoking, and interpreted the work as a “a bittersweet love letter romanticizing the tragic beauty of destruction and the inevitable folly of human achievement”, but she found Korot’s work on the first act to “lack visual imagination”. [3] Andrew Clements of The Guardian awarded Three Tales a full five stars, writing “The three movements get progressively weightier, more discursive, more visually inventive [...] this piece represents a quantum leap in complexity and technological achievement.” [4]

BBC Music

BBC Music is responsible for the music played across the BBC. The current director of music is Bob Shennan, who is also the controller of BBC Radio 2, BBC Radio 6 Music and the BBC Asian Network.

PopMatters is an international online magazine of cultural criticism that covers many aspects of popular culture. PopMatters publishes reviews, interviews, and detailed essays on most cultural products and expressions in areas such as music, television, films, books, video games, comics, sports, theater, visual arts, travel, and the Internet.

<i>The Guardian</i> British national daily newspaper

The Guardian is a British daily newspaper. It was founded in 1821 as The Manchester Guardian, and changed its name in 1959. Along with its sister papers The Observer and The Guardian Weekly, the Guardian is part of the Guardian Media Group, owned by the Scott Trust. The trust was created in 1936 to "secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity and to safeguard the journalistic freedom and liberal values of the Guardian free from commercial or political interference". The trust was converted into a limited company in 2008, with a constitution written so as to maintain for The Guardian the same protections as were built into the structure of the Scott Trust by its creators. Profits are reinvested in journalism rather than distributed to owners or shareholders.

K Smith wrote an unfavorable review in Gramophone, stating that Reich and Korot seem oblivious to “how the Faustian pact with technology that they decry in society has also affected their own work.” Smith argued, “In both its emotional evocations as well as its compositional process, Three Tales is highly manipulative. [...] For artists so quick to criticise others for playing God, they prove vulnerable to the same temptation themselves.” [5]

<i>Gramophone</i> (magazine) UK monthly magazine published in London devoted to classical music, particularly to reviews of recordings

Gramophone is a magazine published monthly in London devoted to classical music, particularly to reviews of recordings. It was founded in 1923 by the Scottish author Compton Mackenzie. It was acquired by Haymarket in 1999. In 2013 the Mark Allen Group became the publisher.

In 2016, Clements ranked the piece as one of Reich’s 10 greatest. [6]


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<i>The Making of the Representative for Planet 8</i> (opera) opera in three acts (six scenes)

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<i>The Minotaur</i> (opera) opera

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<i>Love and Other Demons</i> opera

Love and Other Demons is an opera in two acts by Hungarian composer Péter Eötvös to a libretto by the Hungarian author Kornél Hamvai. It premiered on 10 August 2008 at the Glyndebourne Festival. The libretto is based on the novel Of Love and Other Demons (1994) by Gabriel García Márquez. The opera is the result of a commission by Glyndebourne and the BBC; it was broadcast in full on BBC Radio 3 on Saturday, 11 October 2008.

Bikini Atoll were a post-rock band formed in London, though Ché Albrighton is from Jugenheim, Germany, and Bastian Juel is from Denmark. The band was signed to the Bella Union label in 2004. They released two albums, Moratoria in 2004 and Liar's Exit in 2005.

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Der Sturm is a German-language opera in three acts by the Swiss composer Frank Martin to a libretto based on the Schlegel/Tieck German translation of Shakespeare's play The Tempest. It was premiered at the Vienna State Opera in 1955. The role of Prospero was originally conceived for Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, but illness prevented him participating.

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<i>Radio Rewrite</i>

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Nuclear testing at Bikini Atoll

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  1. Information on
  2. Andrew McGregor. "BBC - Music - Review of Steve Reich - Three Tales". Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  3. "Three Tales by Steve Reich and Beryl Korot". PopMatters. 2002-10-23. Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  4. Clements, Andrew (2003-10-17). "CD & DVD: Reich/Korot: Three Tales". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  5. Smith, K. (2013-01-09). "Reich Three Tales". Retrieved 2019-10-12.
  6. Clements, Andrew (2016-10-03). "Steve Reich – 10 of the best". The Guardian. ISSN   0261-3077 . Retrieved 2019-10-12.