(HERE Artist Residency Program)

Thomas Paine in Violence Paul Pinto

Show Description


Simultaneously set in the mind and afterlife of the revolutionary activist and political philosopher, Thomas Paine in Violence is a new work of opera theater, setting the Founding Father in a cosmic radio station, struggling to organize and communicate a message of economic justice amidst a whirlwind of strange figures, audio speakers, microphones and electronic gadgetry orbiting around the space, enveloping the audience in a whirlwind of sound and text.

Commissioned by and premiering in HERE's 2017-2018 season, TPIV is a collaboration between vocalist-composer-wordsmith Paul Pinto (thingNY, Varispeed, Robert Ashley, Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812) and director Rick Burkhardt (Here Be Sirens, Three Pianos, Nonsense Company). The eighty-minute opera stars legendary vocalist Joan La Barbara as Thomas Paine, and is scored for nine singers also playing percussion, violin, cello, harp and piano, various foley objects, and live electronics.

The opera opens with Paine's Spirit struggling to remember the words and relevance of the pamphlet Agrarian Justice: a treatise arguing for systematic income parity, progressive taxation and economic reform. Trapped in her post-mortem sound booth, unsure of the time or place, it seems like this has been an infinite struggle, heightened by a mysterious “Manchorus” of quick-lipped brown baritones who exist inside Paine's mind and outside the booth in the control room. Throughout the opera, these figures guide the Spirit and the audience like a doo-wop group of purgatory slam poets, singing dense walls of language at lightning speed while playing a bevy of electronic objects (including old tape players, turntables, megaphones, samplers, and live laptop processing).

First performed as a 15-minute radio opera for Experiments in Opera and WQXR's Q2, Burkhardt and Pinto have used three years of development to form the libretto and score into a fully-staged opera experience, and have workshopped performances with HERE (Governor's Island and Culturemart Festival), wildUp! and The Industry (LA), Under the Radar Festival (Omaha), School of the Arts (Singapore), and Ne(x)tworks and ISSUE Project Room (Brooklyn).

This is the most ambitious work from Pinto, who (as a tenacious, independent creator and producer of collaborative experimental opera) has developed a unique style that deftly mixes chamber music, extended vocal technique and rhapsodic recitation into a sort of “opera sermon” with work that is striking, funny, and poignantly politically conscious.

The ambition of the opera is met by the relevance its subject matter. America (especially its urban, young people of color) have been vocal in grappling with our history of social inequality. Additionally, both popular theatre and fringe arts are finally diversifying both in casting and aesthetics. Through projects like TPIV, Pinto looks to diversify the audience of new opera by introducing unfamiliar sounds, stories and faces to the oeuvre, in order to excite new generations of minority artists to dive into experimental work, and to challenge notions of cultural hierarchy in opera- theater.

At its core, Thomas Paine in Violence is a commentary on the social inequality that currently litters the American landscape by taking as its starting point the work of this famed middle-class Englishman who championed fair taxation, abolition of slavery, secular government and equal rights over two centuries ago. While Enlightenment thinkers debated each other in grand rhetoric, Paine proposed his utopian blueprints in plain speak and, of course, common sense. Americans are still struggling with the repercussions of delaying those serious reforms until the 20th Century social contracts. With the libretto, this opera mixes Paine’s words with embellished rants and arguments to create a stream of humorous and raw soapbox debating, and at the same time, engage a 21st Century audience. With its score, this opera creates the modern media landscape: a relentless momentum of slander and politispeak, sometimes streaming too quick for comprehension, and other times obliterated under musical censorship.

Support for Thomas Paine in Violence has been provided by HERE's allocated government and foundational funding and by the Puffin Foundation.

Click here to visit the Thomas Paine in Violence show page and buy tickets to the world premiere.

Artist Bio

Paul Pinto creates and produces experimental music and theatrical works in traditional and non-traditional spaces, and is the founder and co-director of ensembles thingNY and Varispeed. His own compositions blend chamber music and theatre with a focus on total performativity. Specifically, his work centers on the human voice and the endurance of the human body. Paul has chosen to work equally with traditional instruments, lo-fi electronics, unconventional sound-makers and amateur musicians, creating everything from one-minute opera, concert length chamber music, and durational performance art.

His recent work has focused on new experimental opera. With thingNY, Paul co-wrote and performed the operas ADDDDDDDDD, TIME: A Complete Explanation in Three Parts, and Jeff Young and Paul Pinto, Patriots, Run for Public Office on a Platform of Swift and Righteous Immigration Reform, Lots of Jobs, and a Healthy Environment: an opera by Paul Pinto and Jeffrey Young. With Varispeed, Paul created the acclaimed site-specific version of Robert Ashley's Perfect Lives, and has performed in the Kitchen's remounting of Ashley's 1967 opera That Morning Thing, in thingNY's New York premiere of Vinko Globokar's Un Jour Comme Un Autre, and in new works presented by Dave Malloy, Rachel Chavkin, BRIC Arts, Experiments in Opera, the Whitney Biennial and Performa.

For upcoming performances and a full work list, visit www.pfpinto.com

Artist Statement


I get excited by the human voice and music-theater, and so I create vocal-theater works that are an exciting mix of musical speech, poetry, classical music and sound art. With roots in experimental opera, beat poems, RnB and electronic music, my works draws influence from artists like Harry Partch, Robert Ashley, James Brown, D'Angelo, Kurt Schwitters and Kurt Weill. For me, the human voice is the most captivating and versatile instrument, and vernacular American English is the timbre I most often employ. As a composer and librettist of color, I have devoted almost my entire catalog of words and music to raise questions about the way we exist as Americans and have done so never hiding the fact these ideas come from a young brown man. And since words are employed, I try to make those words connect with people. What I write is opera, but a stark departure from traditional opera – more a sort of “opera sermon” using the singing found naturally in the English language. My goal is to write opera for people who both love and loath opera, and to make work that non-artists enjoy attending, thinking about and talking about.

As a composer and librettist of color, I have devoted almost my entire catalog of words and music to raise questions about the way we exist as Americans and have done so never hiding the fact these ideas come from a young brown man. "12 Letters from Brown Men" (from thingNY's upcoming opera, This Takes Place Close By) looks to humanize the victims of climate disasters we document, by stirring race into the issue, while ridiculing the art of “ruin porn”. The opera I wrote with Jeff Young, ...Patriots... examines racism as one of our problems with immigrants and immigration reform. mini_004 touches on subjects of consumerism and its repercussions on the third world.


“"feisty, profane and profound"”
— LA Times (workshop performance of Unintelligible Response
“"singing with a cult-leader-magnetism"”
— Operavore, WQXR

Project Feed

Album art for minis/Trajectories

Resident HARP artist’s new album release - Sep. 20, 2016

Come support a new record by a HARP Artist on Sep. 20. When I'm not working on Thomas Paine in Violence, I'm creating work for and with my now-ten-year-old ensemble, thingNY. To celebrate the release of thingNY's new album, the HERE...

The crux of Thomas Paine in Violence - Agrarian Justice (1797)

Like other artists who choose to develop a work over a significant amount of time, Thomas Paine in Violence began as one thing, but has been redefined as it has grown and deepened. In searching for what this odd piece...

Joan La Barbara. Photo by Benjamin Heller.

Meet the artists - CULTUREMART 2016

On March 8 and 9, Paul and the ensemble presented a 22-minute stab at a new opening for Thomas Paine in Violence. As the majority of the piece is a text-dense, lightning-speed mix of radical philosophy, political soapboxing, swearing, censorship, slam...

The Spirit of Thomas Paine, comin' at you... live (Joan La Barbara). Photo by Benjamin Heller.

Faceoff from Culturemart 2016

Two shots from the 20-minute in-progress performance at Culturemart 2016.