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 Libretto by Eileen Myles with Music by Michael Webster



WEDNESDAY SEPTEMBER 22 & 29, 2004 at the Poetry Project

CONTACT MILES CHAMPION at the Poetry Project 

 t:(212) 674-0910  f:(212)529-2318

The Poetry Project, St. Mark’s Church, 131 East 10th Street, New York, NY 10003

$8 general admission; $7 students & seniors; $5/ free to Poetry Project members


The Poetry Project is delighted to be the venue for the Workshop Premiere of a new opera, “Hell,” written by renowned poet and 1992 presidential write-in candidate Eileen Myles, with composer and recording artist Michael Webster. “Hell” is directed by Simon Leung, with sets by Beth Stephens and costumes by Milena Muzquiz. Performances will take place on two consecutive Wednesdays in September, the 22nd and 29th, at 8 pm.

 This first production of “Hell” will be realized by ten singers and a fifteen-piece orchestra. The lead singers are Juliana Snapper (“The Poet”), Scott Graff (“The Hunk”), and James Rio (“The Devil”). Loosely based on Dante’s Inferno, “Hell” is an opera about public speech, corporate silence, global politics, and poetry. This workshop production is the first step towards a fully realized production in the fall of 2005, and will also be making stops in Provincetown, MA, Los Angeles, and San Francisco before finally landing in Tijuana this fall.

“Hell” opens on the smoking spectacle of lower Manhattan, where a disheveled poet wakes to find herself in a cool Hell where people shop all day and “leadership” is numbly provided by a stand of talking trees (called Father Tree). The poet is guided through this altered place by a slick devil with a cellphone who wants her to write for him. “Hell”’s features include a town meeting with a bleeped-out information warrior called “The Gnome,” a dirge-like rap by an Icelandic band (in Icelandic), and a torch song by a frog about the environment. After an encounter with a terrible journalist who believes that poetry should only be heard in recordings of dead British poets, “Hell” becomes a defense of poetry and live speech in a democracy. “Hell” spins out in ever-widening reflections on war as a tragic alternative to speech, both now and throughout history.

The libretto is written by Eileen Myles, poet, novelist, and performer. Her books include Skies, on my way, and the novel Cool for You. She lives in New York and San Diego, where she teaches writing at UCSD.  Myles has toured widely, having read and performed all over the US and Canada, in Iceland, Germany, Ireland, and Russia. In 1997 she toured with the legendary post-punk performance troupe, Sister Spit. “Hell” is her first libretto (available at and she is finishing a novel about the hell of being a female poet, called The Inferno.

Michael Webster is a composer and recording artist working in Los Angeles. He has worked in the studio with artists as diverse as Van Dyke Parks, Negativland, and Winnie the Pooh. Most recently he has
concentrated on setting contemporary poetry to music: art songs, oratorio, and opera.

Webster’s composition for “Hell” takes the rhythms of speech as its point of departure, changing speed and meter every second or two. Just as Myles’ libretto gathers power with one short line after another, Webster cobbles together an almost constant stream of melody out of fragments of vernacular music. The singers are accompanied by a small chamber ensemble, with strings, harpsichord, and vibraphone.

Simon Leung (Director) is an artist who lives in LA and NY and teaches at UC Irvine. His solo museum exhibition, Proposal for The Side of the Mountain, an opera written with Michael Webster, was presented at the Santa Monica Museum of Art in 2002. His work has been shown at the Whitney Biennial, the Venice Biennale, and the International Museum of Surfing. He is co-editor of Theory in Contemporary Art since 1985 (Blackwell, 2004).

Elizabeth Stephens (Sets) is an artist and professor who lives in San Francisco and teaches at UC Santa Cruz.   She works in sculpture, photography, video installation, and web-based interactive media, and has exhibited in California, New York, and Europe. Stephens’ work can be viewed on her website,

Artist, designer, and performer Melina Muzquiz is, along with Martiniano Lopez-Crozet, the founding duo of Los Super Elegantes, a unique punk-mariachi-pop group based in Los Angeles (via Tijuana and Buenos Aires). Los Super Elegantes mixes original music with theatrical stage improvisations in entertaining live performances that have been described as “fabulous, forever-up-and-coming, Hollywood-via-south-of-the-border, global-populist” (Artforum). They have performed internationally and were featured in the 2004 Whitney Biennial.

Soprano Juliana Snapper (“The Poet”) develops and interprets experimental opera. Recent engagements include the Fresh Sounds series at the San Diego Museum of Art and the UCLA Armand
Hammer Museum performance series, and her current collaborations include JudasCradle, an operatic duodrama with cathartic performer Ron Athey.

Baritone Scott Graff (“The Hunk”) has appeared as a soloist throughout southern California and in the inaugural productions of Long Beach Opera’s Downtown Opera series, singing the role of the Voyeur in Orlando (composed by Martin Herman, libretto by William Houston). Most recently, he sang the roles of Apollo and Pluto in Marc Antoine Charpentier’s Baroque Opera La descente d’Orfee aux Enfers with the Catacoustic Consort in Cincinatti, Ohio.

 Tenor  James Rio (“The Devil”) has performed throughout the United States in opera, musical theater and oratorio. Mr. Rio’s European debut was in the Hal Prince production of The Phantom of the Opera in Hamburg, Germany. He was a featured artist at the East-West International Music F estival in Altenburg, Germany, and at the Belarussian Musical Autumn Festival in Minsk, Belarus. Mr. Rio has appeared with Opera Delaware, Elysian Opera, Intermountain Opera and Manhattan Opera, and has been heard on broadcasts on National Public Radio. Oratorio performances include Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Timothy Noble at The Riverside Church and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with The Monmouth Orchestra and Chorus. Mr. Rio resides in New York City.




Founded in 1966 by the late poet and translator Paul Blackburn, The Poetry Project has been a crucial venue for new and experimental poetries for over three decades. Time Out New York, in its “Essential New York” issue, which listed the Project as one of “101 Reasons To Be Glad You’re Here,” says: “[The Poetry Project] remains a major forum for experimental poets, a meeting place for literary types and an important part of what remains of the city’s countercultural spirit.” Speaking recently about the Project, Lawrence Ferlinghetti (poet and cofounder of San Francisco’s legendary City Lights Bookstore) affirmed: “City Lights has always thought of the Poetry Project in New York as a bellwether for the state of poetry. We have always stayed tuned to hear the latest voices on the frontiers of American poetry.”

Now entering its 39th season, the Poetry Project offers a Wednesday night reading series, a Monday night reading/performance series, four weekly writing workshops, a quarterly newsletter, a website (at, and extensive audio and document archives.


WHAT: “Hell” by Eileen Myles & Michael Webster (a workshop premiere of an opera in one act)


WHERE:        The Poetry Project, St. Mark’s Church, 131 East 10th Street, New York, NY 10003. (212) 674-0910;


WHEN: Wednesday, September 22 & 29, 2004, 8:00pm


ADMISSION: $8 general admission; $7 students & seniors; $5/free Poetry Project members



MEDIA CONTACTS:  Miles Champion at the Poetry Project


f: (212) 529-2318

t: (212) 674-0910


Sara Seinberg at home


            t: (617) 230-3015




so much more at Eileen Myles' site: