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Reality Opera Turns News Into Music, Explores Human Condition

'The News'

Performers rehearse for the reality opera ‘The News.’ (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — You might watch the news just for an update for current events.

You might also enjoy the news theme music. Who in Chicago doesn’t know the classic CBS 2 News theme by the Dick Marx orchestra?

But did you ever notice musical quality to the voice of an anchor reading the headlines, or a politician or celebrity delivering a sound bite?

Dutch avant pop composer Jacob Ter Veldhuis, better known as JacobTV, is capitalizing on that musical quality in “The News,” a new reality opera set for its Midwest premiere in Chicago this coming Friday.

“I hear music all the time,” JacobTV told CBS 2’s Vince Gerasole. “Just now, listen to your voice. I hear music. It’s the rhythm. It’s the sound. It’s the combination of everything, so for me, as a composer, it’s fantastic material.”

For example, JacobTV transforms the simple phrase, “you know what,” into a chant that creates its own droning rhythm.

“It’s just one little sound bite from an anchor,” JacobTV said.

But there is a weightier theme to “The News” than just turning everyday words into music. Through the assorted sound bites, JacobTV has created a 36-scene drama featuring anchors, politicians, celebrities, scientists and televangelists discussing an assortment of socio-political issues.

Taken in aggregate, the opera is intended to provoke examination of the human condition, from religion, politics and government to global warming and the 2008 credit crunch, “exposing our western society’s obsession with public image, fame, catastrophe and morality,” Stephen Burns, artistic director at local producer Fulcrum Point New Music Project, said in an news release.

In one piece that draws inspiration from Wall Street, JacobTV attempts to capture the chaos of the financial markets by having the vocalists sing in Konnakol, an art of speaking percussion syllables used traditionally in South Indian music.

“I think that Wall Street is like the Tower of Babel, you know, you’re confused about the financial markets – whether it will be a bounce or whether it will be a decline,” JacobTV said.

The video clips in the performance feature everyone from President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI to former Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak, and from Sarah Palin to Lady Gaga. Accompanying them, jazz vocalist Lori Cutler and soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg turn the spoken phrases into music, accompanied by a full jazz ensemble.

“This singular and timely work, which marries conventional media material to extraordinary artistry, will engage the public in a uniquely stimulating experience; catalyst for introspection and dialogue,” Burns said in the release.

“The News” premieres at 6 and 9 p.m. at the Park West, 322 W. Armitage Ave. Tickets range from $20 to $150, and the performance will be filmed.