Avant-garde opera inspires panel talk by Stamford’s Franklin Street Works

Mikel Rouse

More than 20 years ago, when talk shows such as “Maury,” “The Jerry Springer Show” and “The Steve Wilkos Show,” were in their infancy, or just a twinkle in a producer’s eye, composer Mikel Rouse was already exploring their cultural impact in his avant-garde opera “Dennis Cleveland.”

It premiered in 1996 in New York City at The Kitchen, an opera in the form of a daytime TV talk-show and blurred the lines between performer and audience. Through January, snippets of the work are part of an exhibition at Franklin Street Works, “I hear it everywhere I go,” which explores how the popular culture, through elements such as celebrity, commercialism and consumer goods, pursues what it believes is the American ideal of opportunity and prosperity.

As part of that exhibition, Franklin Street Works will host a panel discussion with the composer and star of “Dennis Cleveland,” Mikel Rouse, as well as internationally recognized composer and writer Kyle Gann, and award-winning television producer Barbara Alfano White, from 7 to 8:30 p.m., Thursday, Nov. 16 at the Ferguson Library in Stamford. A reception kicks off the event at Franklin Street Works at 5:45 p.m.

Rouse, who is considered one of the leading composers of his generation, explores those themes, along with others, in his opera, for which he plays talk show host Dennis Cleveland. As Terri C. Smith, creative director of the art space and curator of the exhibition notes in her exhibition essay: “(It) brings allegory and narrative together in one performance that layers commentary about celebrity with fictional stories about dissatisfaction.

“Even more than 20 years later, there are so many prescient and thought-provoking themes,” says Smith, who notes that the talk is taking place in a city where the three aforementioned shows are filmed (at the Stamford Media Center at the Rich Forum). “The panel gives us a chance to unpack and explore it more deeply.”

Christina Hennessy