Opera Profile: Paola Prestini’s ‘Sensorium Ex’

By Jennifer Pyron
(Photo: Jill Steinberg)

Sensorium Ex” is an opera by composer Paola Prestini and librettist/poet Brenda Shaughnessy and co-directed by choreographer Jerron Herman. It is a multi-sensory narrative woven together at the intersections of disability and artificial intelligence.

“Sensorium Ex” opera will be premiering at the Common Senses Festival in Omaha for their 2025 season, and is commissioned by the Ford Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Beth Morrison Projects, VisionIntoArt, Alphadyne Foundation, Nordisk Kulturfond, and National Sawdust. This opera is developing how to creatively explore and express forms of non-speaking or non-typical patterns of speech and voice in opera. Artificial intelligence plays a role in expanding the possibilities for voice and expression in this dystopian tale.

The Story

The synopsis is about “a mother’s love, science/tech ethics, romance, corporate greed, a mystical escape, and a robot named Sophia coming together in this story about what it means to be human,” said Shaughnessy. “Sensorium Ex” opens doors that have yet to be opened in opera for people with lived experience from the disability community. Prestini is creating a codex for this work that “promotes a society where we actually hear and see each other, and that represents this multiplicity.”

“Sensorium Ex” is scored for six principals, mixed chorus of 12, and chamber orchestra and electronics. It is also in partnership with Luke DuBois and the Tandon School of Engineering at NYU. Workshops have been a major component in further developing the possibilities of AI within this context. This work is a gateway for voices to come forward and express their non-verbal identities through opera as a means to inform us about a broader spectrum of possibilities through its own evolution. “Sensorium Ex” is an invitation to experience the center of humanity as the human voice.

Additional Information

Learn more and listen to excerpts HERE. Read the panel discussion from National Sawdust and the Met Opera’s “Opera Evolved: Genre Fluidity” HERE.



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