‘The Diary of One Who Disappeared/Needle Point’ — exploring love, disapproval, addiction through song

The musical tale of a man seduced by a Roma woman dealing with family and self disapproval and a story of a character facing addiction will come together for a song cycle event by Oakland University’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance starting Feb. 28.

OU voice students, along with faculty members Alta Marie Boover (mezzo-soprano), Drake Dantzler (tenor) and Victoria Shively (piano) will perform Czech composer Leoš Janáček’s “The Diary of One Who Disappeared” and OU composition faculty member Ben Fuhrman’s new composition “Needle Point.”

The performance will feature partially-staged singing and piano, where performers will be in costume and a choir will be offstage for some movements.

“Needle Point” will be making its world premiere during this production. Fuhrman, who is a special lecturer in composition and music tech, said “Needle Point” explores the opioid crisis through watching the main character of the cycle experience addiction.

Fuhrman said he hopes audience members listening to the “Needle Point” cycle will have a “more visceral connection” than they would have while watching stories about opioids and other drugs on the news.

“It’s this type of thing that we kind of viscerally tune out because it’s almost what we’re accustomed to—it becomes background noise,” he said. “So, I’m trying to bring that more to the forefront through setting it to music.”

Shively, conductor of OU’s opera program and a special lecturer, will be the pianist for both works. She said the piano style shifts between “The Diary” and “Needle Point,” making for an intriguing show.

Traditional piano techniques will be used in “The Diary,” since Janáček’s writing is “evocative, romantic and lush,” according to Shively. In “Needle Point,” however, there will be many more atypical piano techniques.

“Instead of just using the keyboard in the traditional manner, I will be playing inside the piano a lot—striking the strings with percussion mallets, dropping the keyboard lid, using guitar plectrums, as well as other contemporary techniques,” she said. “Composer Ben Fuhrman has made every effort to describe what is a devastating societal problem through sound. It is parallel to using sound effects in movies, for instance. He is using the whole body of the instrument, instead of just one part.”

On top of the differing piano techniques, Fuhrman will be processing sounds digitally during “Needle Point” through software specifically written for the performance. A microphone on the piano will feed into a computer that will distort, delay and filter live sounds.

Thematically, the cycles speak to each other, according to Fuhrman. Dantzler, the main vocalist for the performance and also an associate professor at OU, said “Needle Point” was designed to reflect “The Diary” in both length and theme: In “The Diary,” a man is seduced by a woman, and in “Needle Point,” a man is seduced by pain killers and drugs.

Dantzler said the show is one to see because of the thematic and technical boundaries it breaks.

“The presentations will push the boundaries of what people think ‘classical’ voice recitals can be,” he said. “The Janáček will be in Czech, a language we often don’t get to hear sung. The presentations themselves will challenge the audience’s ideas of how and where a voice recital can be presented. Finally, the Fuhrman will challenge the audience both in terms of thematic and dramatic content, as well as the idea of what ‘classical’ music can sound like.”

Fuhrman said the performance will be intense and is not exactly suited for children to see because of its heavy subjects, language and drug use, but it still tells an important story.

“It’s going to be a fairly intense performance for both pieces,” Fuhrman said. “These are not light and happy subjects, so it will be kind of a more intense performance than some people may anticipate, but they are tackling important subjects.”

The shows will be Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 3 at 3 p.m. in the Varner Recital Hall. Tickets are $14 for general admission and $8 for students and are available on startickets.com.