Paradises Lost

opera in two acts

based on the novella byUrsula K. Le Guin
from the story collection The Birthday of the World
commissioned by the University of Illinois

music by Stephen Andrew Taylor
libretto by Marcia Johnson

What happens when you spend your whole life—entire generations—traveling toward a goal until the endpoint becomes unattainable? As voyagers on the starship Discovery are born and live their lives on a trip to colonize a distant planet, their metal-encased world becomes more tangible to them than Earth, which they have never seen. Hsing and Luis know that the ship's ultimate destination lies in the hands of future generations, but the followers of Bliss—a religion emerging from their cocoon in space—believe that they should remain inside their spaceship heaven for eternity. In this world premiere, a star-faring adventure transforms into an inward journey of conflict and turmoil.

Paradises Lost, a 2002 science fiction novella by Ursula K. Le Guin, tells the story of the Discovery, on a 200-year voyage to explore and colonize a planet known as New Earth, or Shindychew. The ship is almost perfectly self-contained and self-sustaining, and life aboard is lively and comfortable. Hsing and Luis, members of the fifth generation, born during the voyage, know no other life, no other world. They see their purpose as keeping things going til the ship lands, many years from now. They confront the followers of Bliss, and plots arise on both sides: those who want to land on the planet and those who want to travel through heaven forever, in Bliss. When the voyage is unexpectedly shortened, conflict becomes crisis.

Two video clips from the production at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, April 28, 2012.
Robert W. Rumbelow, conductor; Ricardo Herrera, director; Regina Garcia and David Warfel, stage and lighting design.
The role of Hsing is played by JooYoung Bang; Luis, Joe Arko; Rosa, Yaritza Zayas; Tirza, Samantha Resser.

For the 4000 travelers aboard Discovery, which left 140 years ago, Earth is not even a memory. Above is the opening chorus and the beginning of Scene 2, in which Hsing sings a poem she has written, "In the Fifth Generation."

In Act 2, Hsing and Luis say goodbye to Rosa, who has decided to remain on the ship with the angels, in Bliss. Finally they land on Shindychew: they see the sun, feel the wind, for the first time in their lives. Shocked and disoriented, Luis sings about this new terror and beauty.

Major roles:
Hsing, a young woman soprano
Luis, a young man baritone
Rosa, Hsing's classmate coloratura soprano
Patel, archangel in Bliss tenor
Canaval, ship's navigator bass
Secondary roles:
Uma, chair of Plenary Council
Aki, Hsing's classmate
Tirza, Hsing's friend
Tan, head librarian
Bingdi, Tan's son
Ramdas, Luis's friend
The crew of Discovery mixed chorus (optional; can also consist only of the above cast)

Chamber orchestra (16-25 players, depending on strings, plus laptop)

Note: The cast may consist of seven with double casting (possibly six if the tenor roles are combined), plus an optional ensemble.

Excerpts from an early version of Paradises Lost were performed at the New York City Opera's VOX: Contemporary American Opera Lab, May 6-7, 2006. Since then, workshops have taken place with American Opera Projects and operamission in New York City, and Tapestry New Opera Works in Toronto. Instrumental excerpts have been performed in Amsterdam, Belgrade, New York City, Montréal, Mexico City, the Bali Art Festival, and Spoleto USA. On January 20, 2012, Third Angle of Portland, Oregon presented a 40-minute chamber version; the full premiere took place at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, Urbana, Illinois from April 26-29, 2012. On August 13, 2013, the composer conducted a revised, concert version with piano as part of Toronto's Summerworks festival; here is a review.

Versions of this work were funded by the University of Illinois, the Princess Grace Foundation, the American Music Center, and the Canada Arts Council.