In Another Life
A chamber folk opera

A blight has struck the Northeastern Quadrant, and four strangers are trapped in a remote cabin, telling stories to pass the time while they attempt to forget the potential disasters that might be swirling outside their hideaway. 

This project began with Brent Arnold's attempt to set the brilliant and bizarre poetry of Geoffrey Nutter to music, and exploded into a multifaceted theatrical collaboration with composer Alaina Ferris and designer Sarah McMillan. Fractured songs and stories are performed in a sort of modern-day Decameron by Alaina and Brent (on harp and cello) as the ingenious Kunstkabinett set combines puppetry, projections, costumes, and more. 

As our protagonists spin tales to avoid the subject of the mysterious disaster outside, which seems to encompass every modern anxiety from environmental catastrophe to terrorism to immigration to disease to civil war - they inadvertently explore how we got to this strange point in history.

The use of fear as a political tool seems suddenly to be everywhere, and it is getting predictably extreme results. One begins to wonder if a state of constant panic will the new normal. And yet we know there are very real things worth fearing.

This project obliquely addresses these fears for us and our world, and the question of what to do about them. We often desire to escape, whether to physically flee or to hide in stories and invented worlds. 

In the Decameron, the classic archetype for this story-within-a-story, the protagonists are highly privileged young adults, hiding in a luxurious villa and telling witty stories while the plague decimates the world around them. 

Will some catastrophe soon send us fleeing as well? What is the difference between a prudent citizen of a stable society and a desperate refugee? 


In Another Life

That time when we lived in the city
In the city by the threatening sea
That city of glittering spires and reflections
In another life

In that city of windows and mirrors
Each moment had a thousand reflections
And I never quite knew if it was me or you
I saw through the window

And we would pass each other there on the street
And I saw that you saw that I saw you
And we would pass each other there
And you knew that I knew that you knew me
We passed by but we never spoke
Passed by, but we never spoke
In another life

But one day the sun flared in the sky
And the glass shattered all around us
And the sea did that thing that they told us the sea would never do
Not but once in a thousand years
Once in a thousand years

Was there a warning?
I don’t recall

And now we find ourselves 
Gone to ground we’ve gone to ground
Are we safe here with one another
Gone to ground we’ve gone to ground
And we spend our dreaming of the past
In another life       

~Lyrics by Brent Arnold
Music by Brent Arnold and Alaina Ferris


Along the High Huts of the White Mountains
In fields of pale laurel and goldthread
Past the cliffs of granite stone
At a time when the sun and grass kiss

In this world full of riddles, tell me true.
Do you prefer city, land, or sea?
I am sister of solitude
It is the home that knows me. 

There was a time, millions of years ago, 
when the molten rock swelled
pushed the earth o’re the sediment
The cooling became cliffs and this dark forest of spruce and fur

Then came the Devil’s paintbrush, painted trillium
three-leaf goldthread, the seven-petaled flower,
the white-throated sparrow and rabbits 
who feed at dusk on the sedge

Is this world allied with chaos or order? I ask the gray-cheeked thrush.
Under this pavilion, I’ve lost my way In the clamoring of orchestral sounds, 
What I want is a single word that encapsulates all the wisdom
of these solemn towers

I am a person speeding away from humanity
But Pythagoras said everything feels
I dream the same apocalypse — floods, wraiths, and burning citadels
Together, we are on the edge of this nightmare

The stars were hurled and my soul became a chain of song
I ask the rabbit, “Am I bird, beast or worm?
Am I imperial or just a dull shape bloated
I know I am, that’s all

What is liberty and what is its cost?
Today, at a Christmas market in Strasbourg, a man open fired on huts similar to these
the fairie lights were turned off the shutters closed 
This year is the greatest account of shootings on record

Vigorous discussion amongst politicians will not stop the spirits 
drawing upwards, who love still, but live no more
Does nature inspire us to sublimity?
Or am I complicit in this escapist tour?

Along the High Huts of the White Mountains
All I want is a single word
“I want these white phantoms to fall from their burning sky”
And until I have the answer, I will shut the doors

~lyrics by Alaina Ferris
music by Brent Arnold and Alaina Ferris


Samuel Pepys

I was reading Samuel Pepys’s Diary

on the train, and as I read I noticed

something: that I was sleeping

when he was sleeping, and waking

when he woke. And then too I found

that I was garbed in richest

suit of pearl, like Samuel Pepys, 

and furthermore I found that when

Samuel Pepys lay beside his wife

abed til late into the morning

I too lay beside my espoused. 

With tailors at work on the quarter-deck

cutting yellow cloth into the fashion

of a crown, he is dining on a lobster, 

on dozens of little oysters, and on

partridges and sparrows, and marrow 

bones in a dish, a dish of prawns

and cheese, a loin of veal, two dozen 

larks, anchovies and a neat’s tongue… 

and so am I. He sends for a cup of tea, 

he hears a sermon, gets news of traitors

being quartered; you have rued 

sly with wonder and dejection these daily

entries. While he is being garbed in his suit

of lavender and pearl, like some beautiful

creature of the sea, the berry-sized samples

of a man’s small life are ripening: 

presents, rich fur, carpets, cloths of tissue, 

and sea-horse teeth, perforce what makes up day. 

Divide it from its essence like a tissue

of sparks above the black plums of fire. 

You must echo your sad, real experiences

somehow, shards of a large glass globe

in the brown and fallen leaves. Samuel Pepys, 

I know that, someday soon, you will read

the story of my life, as I read yours, 

immersed in details. Monuments will rise then

from amaranth and stand again, be reinhabited

by phantoms, the fragrant spired leaves

that are touched and touched again

later by the same hand.

~by Geoffrey Nutter