Elizabeth Brown's chamber opera for voice, theremin and recorded sound inspired by the advent of electricity in rural America decades after cities were electrified, and a young woman's hopes, dreams and fears of how her world would change as a result.  See BACKGROUND > below for additional project information. For sound samples, go to < SOUND SAMPLES >.


Composed by Elizabeth Brown Performed by Stephanie Skaff and Elizabeth Brown, video by Lothar Osterburg and set by Nathan Elbogen. See PROFILES > below for collaborators' bio information.




WED-SAT  24-27 MAY 2006  8:00 PM



wheelchair accessible   |  RUNS APPX 55 MIN











Subway F Line Subway G Line to Carroll St/Smith St    Subway F Line Subway R Line to Ninth St/Fourth Av    Bus B37 Bus B71 to Third St/Third Av



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When rural Americans finally got electricity in the 1930’s and 40’s, decades after the cities, many went outside just to look back at their illuminated houses - it was wonderful, just like going from darkness to daylight. Corners of rooms, or a loved one’s face, were magically lit. As one Rural Electrical Administration worker said, "I’ve seen this happen, the lights come on, hundreds of places, and it’s an emotional situation you can’t describe - something happens, lightning strikes them, and they all at once are different." People prayed, they cried, they swore. Work was transformed as well, with farm and household chores no longer tied to daylight hours, and countless new machines and appliances from which to chose.


"But these cold figures do not measure the human importance of the electric power in our present social order. Electricity is no longer a luxury. It is a definite necessity. It lights our homes, our places of work and our streets. It turns the wheels of most of our transportation and our factories. In our homes it serves not only for light, but it can become the willing servant of the family in countless ways. It can relieve the drudgery of the housewife and lift the great burden off the shoulders of the hardworking farmer."  -- President Franklin D. Roosevelt


Brown is descended from generations of Mississippi farmers, late to get electricity. She grew up on an agricultural research station in Camden, Alabama which was run by Auburn University, where some of the earliest electrical experiments on farm equipment in the U.S. were carried out in 1892.


The theremin, with its unearthly vocal quality, is a unique blend of the human and the electrical, an analog electronic instrument invented by Russian scientist Leon Theremin (1896-1993) in 1919. While working on developing an electronic burglar alarm system, he discovered that the human body could change the frequency of radio waves. This gave him the idea to build a musical instrument “which would free the player from all physical constraints”. The theremin is played by interrupting radio waves flowing between one’s body and the two antennae. The player appears to be playing the air. It effectively conveys the awe felt by rural Americans at their first experience of electricity.


The electrical voice of the theremin will be joined by the human voice and presence of Stephanie Skaff, whose wordless arias will alternate with intoned narrative sung in unison with the theremin.  Lothar Osterburg’s ghostly projected images of the era will float over an atmospheric sonic backdrop including both manual and electric machines and appliances.


This project was made possible in part with funding from Barlow Foundation and the Brooklyn Arts Council.


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Elizabeth Brown


Composer/performer Elizabeth Brown received a Master's degree in flute performance from The Juilliard School in 1977, then started composing in the late 70's. Since then, her music has been heard in Japan, the Soviet Union, Colombia, Australia and Vietnam as well as across the US and Europe. She has received grants, awards and commissions from Orpheus, St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble, Newband, the Asian Cultural Council, NYFA, the Cary Trust, the Fromm Foundation, and the Copland Fund. In addition to flute, Brown plays shakuhachi, theremin and dan bau (traditional Vietnamese monochord). She was winner of the Ether Music 2005 Composition Contest for a new work for theremin. Featured as soloist on the Women Shakuhachi Masters program at the 2004 International Shakuhachi Conference in New York City, she has also given solo moonlight shakuhachi performances in Acadia National Park, Isle Royale National Park, and the sculpture quarry of the Lacoste School for the Arts in Provence. As a flutist, she has performed at major venues here and abroad, and recorded extensively. A solo CD, Blue Minor: Chamber Music by Elizabeth Brown was released by Albany Records in 2003.  For additional bio information please visit WWW.ELIZABETHBROWNCOMPOSER.COM >



Stephanie F. Skaff


Stephanie Skaff makes original performance work, both solo and collaborative, and performs the work of others. Her most recent original works Nice to Understand You: A Tangent in Seven Parts (12/05) and Words Untitled (12/04) were presented at The Old American Can Factory, and previous works have been presented at The Construction Company and The Culture Project, both in NYC. She sings and plays instruments in Paul Hogan's miniature rock orchestra, Frances, and performs with Only Make Believe, an organization that brings theatre to hospitalized children in NYC. Stephanie has a BFA in Dramatic Performance from University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music (CCM), and has received awards from Princess Grace Foundation USA and the Puffin Foundation Ltd. For additional bio information, please visit WWW.STEPHANIESKAFF.COM >




Lothar Osterburg


The work of Lothar Osterburg speaks to lost times and faraway places. Working with small models made by hand from memory out of found materials, he brings to realization his imaginings of a romantic, ideal universe. Best known as one of the foremost proponents of the photogravure process in the world, both as an artist and as a teacher. he has received a Concordia Career Grant, and fellowships and residencies from NYFA, the MacDowell Colony, and the Virginia Center for the Arts. Osterburg’s video ‘Watermusic’ was shown recently at Art Basel. He has had solo shows at Achim Moeller Fine Art in New York, at Highpoint Center for Printmaking in Minneapolis, at Penn State and Haverford College, and in Madison, Berkeley, Houston, San Francisco, and Tokyo. His work has also been shown throughout his native Germany. Osterburg is on the faculty of at Bard College and Cooper Union, and has taught photogravure and been visiting artist at Anderson Ranch Arts Center, Bennington College, Cleveland Institute of Art, RISD, Columbia University, Pyramid Atlantic, Photographer's Formulary, Lower East Side Printshop, Manhattan Graphics Center, Lacoste School for the Arts in Provence, and Hui Noeau Visual Arts Center in Maui. He is master printer and sole proprietor of Lothar Osterburg Photogravure and Etching Workshop.  For additional bio information please visit WWW.LOTHAROSTERBURGPHOTOGRAVURE.COM >



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