DETROIT — Arms flung wide, Joseph Keckler collapses to the floor and dies.
Then, a couple seconds later, he gets up. And dies again.
After 10 or so iterations, we take a break. Then: more dying.
Over the course of approximately two hours, before an audience at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD), Joseph Keckler performed his work in progress “Let Me Die,” an examination of life, death, and opera that he’s been developing for some time now, but quite intensively during a residency at the University of Michigan Stamps School of Art and Design over the last three months. The piece presents death scenes excerpted from dozens of different operas, all of them executed by Keckler, who has an extraordinary range that enables him to sing deep bass through to falsetto. In truth, it is startling to hear such an opera-sized voice come out of a standard-sized young man, with a hipsterish swoop of brown bangs.
Keckler’s love of opera is clearly genuine, although his formal voice training began in the context of a visual art education, rather than a conservatory environment, and he’s more multimedia performance artist than an opera singer. He cites Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Feodor Chaliapan, and Maria Callas as “strong artistic/intellectual/political forces,” and the four-movement work in progress presented at the MOCAD on Saturday, December 12, directly refers to several other seminal names in opera as well. It covers a wide cross-section of the operatic canon … or at least the dramatic ends of many of the canon’s title characters.