Keeril Makan and Jay Scheib’s Persona

2016 CAST Faculty Grant

Visceral new operatic adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s classic film

About the Performance

Persona, a chamber opera based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 classic film, composed by Keeril Makan, with direction and libretto by Jay Scheib, previewed in a workshop performance at MIT on October 17, 2015. Rome Prize winner Makan and Obie-award winner Scheib—both MIT faculty—audaciously transplanted Persona’s famously provocative and complex depiction of human frailty, cruelty and identity into operatic form.

The fully staged production premiered at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, NY on October 23-24, 2015. Persona starred soprano Amanda Crider, was produced by Beth Morrison Projects (BMP) and conducted by Evan Ziporyn.

Makan and Scheib state, “Our seventy-minute opera is at its core, a duet—but for one. A kind of monodrama with the briefest of interruptions, performed by a sole soprano who sings the role of Alma. Alma is a young nurse who has been assigned to care for actress, Elisabet Vogler, who in the middle of a performance, suddenly ceased to speak and remained sunken utterly in an apparently self-imposed silence.” Silence also plays a leading role in this opera—not just literal silence, but the concept of silence itself. The relationship of sound and silence within the music is presented as an analogue to Bergman’s remarkable use of film as a physical medium.

This project, which is funded in part by the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation, represents a revolution in Makan’s compositional style. The composer says, “My music combines the visceral excitement of post-minimalism with the sonic beauty suggested by new technologies, but realized acoustically. What is new in Persona is a lyricism that is wide-ranging in its emotional content.”

The 2015-16 MIT Sounding Performance Series was presented by the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) and MIT Music and Theater Arts.

Public Events

Past Events

Persona MIT Workshop
October 17, 2015 / 8:00pm
MIT Rinaldi Tile Building, E33
34 Carleton Street, Cambridge

Persona, a new chamber opera based on Ingmar Bergman’s 1966 classic film, composed by Keeril Makan, with direction and libretto by Jay Scheib, previews in a workshop performance at MIT as part of MIT Sounding 2015-16. (The fully staged production premieres at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, NY later this fall.)  The opera is being produced by Beth Morrison of Beth Morrison Projects (BMP), conducted by Evan Ziporyn, and stars soprano Amanda Crider.

Related Event

World Premiere Performance of Persona
October 23 and October 24, 2015 / 8pm
National Sawdust Festival, Brooklyn, NY

Composer Forum: Keeril Makan Discusses Persona
October 15, 2015 / 5:00pm
MIT Lewis Music Library, 14E-109
Free and open to the public

Keeril Makan was raised in New Jersey by parents of South African, Indian and Russian Jewish descent. After training as a violinist, he received degrees in composition and religion from Oberlin and completed his PhD in composition at the University of California–Berkeley, with additional studies in Helsinki and Paris. Makan makes his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he is Associate Professor of Music at MIT.

Collaborators at MIT

Keeril Makan, Associate Professor in Composition/Theory,Music and Theater Arts, MIT

Jay Scheib, Director of Theater Arts and Professor,Music and Theater Arts, MIT

Evan Ziporyn, Kenan Sahin Distinguished Professor and Chair, Music and Theater Arts, MIT

Beth Morrison Projects

About the Artists

Composer Keeril Makan, Associate Professor of Music at MIT, has received the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, as well as awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Fromm Foundation, the Gerbode Foundation, the Hewlett Foundation, Meet the Composer, the Aaron Copland House, the Utah Arts Festival and ASCAP. Described by The New Yorker as “an arrestingly gifted young American composer,” his work has been commissioned by the Bang on a Can All-Stars, American Composers Orchestra, Harvard Musical Association and Carnegie Hall, among others.

Director Jay Scheib, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellow, is Associate Professor for Theater at MIT. Scheib’s recent works include Evan Ziporyn’s A House in Bali at the Cutler Majestic Theater in Boston and at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival 2010 followed by a new staging of Fidelio at Saarländische Staatstheater in Saarbrücken, Germany, Brecht’s Puntila und sein Knecht Matti at Theater Augsburg in Germany, and Bellona, Destroyer of Cities which premiered at The Kitchen in New York and later played in Paris as part of the Maison des Arts de Créteil (MAC) Exit Festival, followed by a Spring 2011 run at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. In the Spring of 2009, Scheib was listed Best New York Theater Director by Time Out New York, and American Theater Magazine called him one of the twenty-five theater artists who will shape the next twenty-five years of American theater.

More about Keeril Makan.

More about Jay Scheib.