Man: Biology of a Fall




The Defenestration Trilogy is comprised of three chamber operas. These operas are also of a genre that the creators believe they have invented: "Conspiracy Theory Opera." The operas are:

#1 On The Air (2000-01)
Main characters: Edwin H. Armstrong, David Sarnoff, Philo T. Farnsworth
Produced at Theater for the New City, March 26 & 27, 2001 (CD available)

#2 Nightingale: The Last Days of James Forrestal (2001-02)
Produced at Present Company Theatorium, May 19 - June 4, 2002 (DVD available)

#3 Man: Biology of a Fall (2003-2007) Produced at Kumble Theater, Brooklyn, NY, Oct. 4-7, 2007


1. How did the idea for the Defenestration Trilogy come about?

In October, 2000, Gary Heidt was planning his annual Spring Solstice Arts Festival, LOVESPHERE. It's theme was "Psy-Ops." He had already written a one-act theater script entitled The Birth and Theft of Television. I volunteered to set it as an opera, to be produced at Theater for the New City. We later changed the title to On The Air. Somewhere along the way we began talking about a grouping of operas that all ended with the main character going out a window to his demise. He mentioned that he wanted to write about Forrestal. I knew then that the grouping had to ultimately be three operas. Another friend who heard my idea gave me the marvelous word, defenestration, which means to throw from the window. Later, I learned that this word was most closely associated with the three Prague defenestrations: 1419, 1618, and 1948. Strictly speaking, the Prague defenestrations are not addressed or relevant to this trilogy. However, it is interesting to note the Catholic/Protestant theme of the first two, and the Cold War intrigue of the third, in relation to the Nightingale libretto.

2. How did you choose these particular people to write about?

Gary Heidt chose them. The first protagonist is Edwin H. Armstrong, inventor of F.M. The second is James Forrestal, the first Secretary of State. The third is Frank Olson, an army chemist who worked for the CIA in America's early biological warfare program.

3. What are the similarities between the three operas?

The fateful deaths of these very real personages all occurred between May, 1949 (Forrestal) and February, 1954 (Armstrong). As such, the trilogy is about an extremely pivotal era in American and world history.

Two of the defenestrations occurred in New York City. The one that didn't (Forrestal) was by a person who was from New York and made his living and fame in New York. He also incidentally lived in a house that was a mere 3 blocks (Beekman Place) from where Armstrong took his own life (The River House). So these are also all New York stories. Olson's defenestration took place at the Hotel Pennsylvania (then the Statler Hotel) across 7th Avenue from Penn Station.

All three figures were associated with the U. S. military. Major Armstrong donated his inventions to the military in both World Wars, though his story is the furthest from military intrigue of the three. Where their stories are not related to the military, they are related to technology, research, or government. But, essentially they are tragic stories about lesser known "heroes."

No crossover of musical motives is intended, but certain similarities will duly arise.

4. What are the differences between the three operas?

On The Air is a one-act and is scored for all winds (with piano and percussion). It has the most humorous tone and lighter music of the three. Now there is a hit Broadway play called "The Farnsworth Invention" that is about the same thing. We were on it seven years ago.

Nightingale is a two-act and is scored for strings at its core (with some winds, piano and percussion).

Man: Biology of a Fall will combine the ensembles of the first two operas, approaching a standard chamber orchestra instrumentation. I dream of having all three operas some day performed one after the other by the same company.

All three operas have a cast of about ten singers.

On The Air has a significant portion of spoken material, Nightingale less, and Olson virtually none. There is a progression from Theater-Opera to true Opera. On the subject of progressions, Armstrong's defenestration was a "self-defenestration" -- he killed himself. Forrestal's is speculative. Olson's is "officially" speculative, but there is a stronger case than Forrestal's that he was murdered, and the story reflects that.

5. Is there any video available of these operas?

There are substantial clips of Nightingale and Man: Biology of a Fall on YouTube at my channel: The videographers of Birth and Theft ironically ran off with the video and/or refused to hand it over to us. Also, you can buy the entire Nightingale DVD from me (and it has subtitles, even though it's in English -- for those who really can't deal with opera singing).

-Evan Hause