Founded at Oxford University in 2015, Spectra Ensemble is committed to reinventing historic fragments through contemporary practice. The collective's engagement with the unperformed and the unperformable focuses on the work of the early twentieth-century avant-garde and the specific interaction between visual and performance practice; between visual artists, musicians and choreographers, who sought to combine their media in innovative ways.
The company's sophomore production, Liturgie, enjoyed a sell-out run in December 2016, and was revived at The Place with Tête à Tête Opera. 2017 also saw the premiere of Collision, an absurdist cabaret-opera which set a 1928 text by Kurt Schwitters to new music. Collision was first performed at the Greenwood Theatre and then reworked into a stripped-back cabaret version for Grimeborn at the Arcola.
In 2018, Spectra Ensemble tackles a new style whilst continuing its focus on the early twentieth century and honouring the team's belief in the importance of dialogue between eras. The company's production of The Boatswain's Mate, written in 1913-14 by Ethel Smyth, will be set in 1950s Margate and will bridge the gap between the first wave of feminism (of which Smyth herself was at the vanguard) and today's discourse.
Collision started life in 1928 as an irreverent, Dada-esque opera libretto by German artist Kurt Schwitters. With a strange Green Globe on course to collide with Earth, the end of the world is nigh, and panic is rife on the streets of Berlin. Part absurdist science-fiction and part sultry cabaret, Collision was Schwitters' first and only foray into the opera world and it was never performed at the time. Spectra Ensemble reimagined Collision as a fully-staged 'comic opera in banalities' set to new cabaret- and jazz-influenced music by Lewis Coenen-Rowe.
Presenting the Orthodox rite as total work of art, Liturgie is a ballet-opera conceived by Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes collaborators while carousing with the Italian Futurists and Igor Stravinsky.
Taking place a century after the project was conceived, Spectra Ensemble’s production marked the world premiere of Liturgie, combining designs drawn from Natalia Goncharova's plans with new music by Daniel Lee Chappell and new choreography by Camille Jetzer.
Spectra Ensemble's debut production was Performing Colour / Staging Sound at Oxford's Jacqueline du Pré Music Building, a multimedia collaboration which presented the aesthetic strands of two early twentieth-century works and their contemporary possibilities.
A staged production of Wassily Kandinsky's colour opera Der Gelbe Klang, paired with Schreker's Kammersymphonie and Lewis Coenen-Rowe's A Cosmic Joke, explored the potential of staging concert works and the affective possibilities of lighting design in music. Der Gelbe Klang, or The Yellow Sound, was first published in Kandinsky's almanac Der Blaue Reiter in 1911. Although plans for its performance never materialised, the work was eventually completed and performed in 1982 in conjunction with the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. The 40-minute opera is divided into six 'pictures' and is devoid of narrative or plot: its emphasis is on movement, colour and expression. Spectra's version was shortlisted for King's College London's Ivan Juritz Prize for Creative Responses to Modernism.