Born in Brazil, Clarice Assad is the daughter of Sergio Assad and the niece of Odair Assad, one of the world’s premier international guitar duos. She has appeared at the Cabrillo Festival once before, for the 2004 world premiere of her Violin Concerto, written for and performed at the Festival by violinist and conductor Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. About The Disappeared, Assad writes:
In 1992 artist Claudia Bernardi and her sister Patricia went to El Mozote, El Salvador, to commit themselves to the grueling task of exhuming hundreds of skeletons from a mass grave. Among them, 136 victims had been children under the age of twelve. This slaughter, a bizarre by-product of a brutal twelve years of civil war, had been quickly covered up and dismissed for various political reasons. As a result, it went unreported by the press for a long time. Yet Rufina Amaya Marquez (1942-2007), one of the handful survivors of this horror, had lived to tell the story.
The Disappeared is a political piece. The underlying political events that led to the massive destruction of an entire village are quite absurd and really difficult to accept. It took me several weeks to figure out what I was going to do with this story, and after much pondering the image/idea of a traveling circus came into my mind. I chose the circus because of all its metaphorical meanings and its vivid imageries. A circus can be sweet, childish and innocent, or it can be gruesome, freakish and violent, such as the Circus Maximus in ancient Rome.
A disturbing musical parody, the music is quite visual and acknowledges the horrific events that had taken place in the village of El Mozote, as if conveyed to the audience by a traveling circus that had pulled into town and put on a show. Each circus “act” metaphorically addresses political issues such as power abuse and freedom, and the acts are woven together by interludes sung by a female voice inspired by the witness Rufina Amaya. Her voice lives in a parallel reality and accounts for what happened before the pandemonium and in the aftermath, but never during the present, actual horror.
Little by little, the bittersweet melody begins to lose its naiveté by piecing together ghostly memories of a community that once thrived in innocence and simplicity, though it had been overshadowed by an ominous premonition. The chronicle is a juxtaposition of ideas, emotions and ideals, a musical collage of sorts, influenced by Claudia Bernardi’s art, which, since her experience in El Mozote, has included severed figures and fragments of bone.
The work opens with an Overture and quickly dissolves into the First Interlude, Children in a Circle. Next is Clowns, symbolizing the government. It features a solo piccolo trumpet, which attempts to mock and mimic the speech of a dictator. The Second Interlude welcomes the Flying Trapeze, which stands for freedom, freedom of speech and free will. The movement closes bittersweetly with Jugglers and Tumblers, who herald news of the circus coming to town.
Finally, the music is interrupted by the Last Interlude, which is not sung but whispered in the form of a prayer. It is a soft, but desperate pleading, a cry for help that goes answered and the music progresses into the final movement entitled Freak Show. The piece concludes with a sung Postlude, the only portion of the work that contains lyrics. These lyrics, set to a poem by Brazilian writer Daniel Basilio, summarize the story with a beautiful message of life-affirming hope and continuing fortitude.