Ill on a Journey is a multilingual opera/oratorio about navigating life with chronic illness—the story of Aurelia, an adventure-loving woman whose health increasingly restricts her mobility. Featuring ancient and modern texts from around the world, it explores the theme of travel and alternative means of fulfillment for those who are unable to leave home. The title is taken from the last poem of Matsuo Bashō, a 17th-century Japanese journeyman-poet with whom Aurelia feels an affinity.
Aurelia’s worsening illness precipitates a search for meaning in her favorite activity: traveling. From the isolation of her bedroom, she voraciously reads, trying to pinpoint exactly why traveling is so special to her, and how she might find similar purpose in her new housebound life.
The story takes place over the course of a year and is divided into 12 movements corresponding to each month. The chorus and its soloists present material that Aurelia reads (texts by Han Yu, Matsuo Bashō, Gabriela Mistral, Claude McKay, and Alexander Pushkin, among others, in the original languages), and she responds in solo (soprano) passages, on texts by the composer in English. Three of Aurelia’s solo movements have been independently performed in chamber ensemble arrangements, available below.
Mt. Carrigain is a 4,683-foot peak in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, which I climbed in September 2014. It was my 43rd of New Hampshire’s 48 peaks over 4,000 feet, the last before my worsening health made this kind of hiking no longer possible. This piece will be included in Ill on a Journey, a multilingual opera/oratorio about navigating life with chronic illness.
Listen to soprano Abigail Chapman and SORA string quartet performing September: Mt. Carrigain:
I began climbing these mountains as a child
back then I set a goal to one day know them all
when I got sick so many goals had to be abandoned
and yet I held onto this
Signal Ridge Trail is a rocky spine ascending through evergreens
soaked in mist, clothed in moss and mushrooms
although I’ve never been here, somehow I feel at home
today it’s not too difficult to hold my head up straight
today my vision is clear
today the grip of pain is loose enough to move
this is as good as I can feel
as good as I’ll ever feel
Signal Ridge Trail is laced with slippery tree roots
sending me stumbling— ankles twisting—
my body knows I want to leave it and bites the rock in despair
taking a break, out of breath, we tell each other
“The view will be sublime, when the clouds lift!”
but the clouds never lift
they swirl around the firetower
in wind threatening to tear us away
refusing to allow even a glimpse of the green beyond
knees also refuse to obey
blood turned spiky as the trail
paper birch, I am a foreigner in your home now
will you kindly steady me?