Fresh opera offerings proliferate from unique inititives like Prototype’s Opera/Theatre/Now festival.
By Mort Levine
Keeping up with today’s crop of contemporary
opera offerings makes one think of the challenges
faced by Italian opera lovers back in the 19th
century. If one out of 100 ultimately won a place
in the popular repertory of main stream companies,
so be it. The ambition, talent and fortitude
of opera composers and librettists in 21st century
America is indeed equally admirable. So too is
the courage and imagination of presenters and
opera artistic directors who seek out and place
their bets on untried works.
This mid-January has just witnessed the second
annual Prototype Opera/Theatre/Now festival in
assorted venues in New York which typifies what
is going forth on the front lines of new operatic
works. The festival includes five new opera
works, including one which had its premiere here
last year at the Stanford campus’ Bing Concert
Hall (reviewed at that time in this newsletter) .
Called Visitations, two one act works of composer
Jonathan Berger and librettist Dan O’Brien,
explore the auditory hallucinations of a shellshocked
war photo-journalist (The War Reporter)
and the schizophrenic musings of a patient in a
mental institution (Theotokia).
Among the four other unique works are:
Angel’s Bone, a supernatural tale of angels and middle-class greed by composer Du Yun and librettist
Royce Vavrick. The venue for this work was appropriately Trinity Church on Wall Street
in lower Manhattan.
Have a Good Day! is by a Lithuanian team,
composer Lena Lapelyte and librettist Vaiva Granyte.
This minimalist work is for 10 singing cashiers
and supermarket sounds with piano. It is
set in a shopping center.
Paul’s Case sets to operatic music a short story by Willa Cather. Composer Gregory Spears collaborated on the libretto with Kathryn Walat.
Thumbprint tells in operatic form the searing story of a gang-rape ordered by a village council in India. Mukhtar Mai defied the conventions and brought her attackers to justice, becoming a symbol of hope for the oppressed. The composer is Kamala Sankaramin and combines Hindustani and western music. The libretto is by Susan Yankowitz.
The Prototype concept is the brainchild of Beth
Morrison, youthful, multi-talented producerimpressaria
out of Yale drama school who has
linked up her vision with other women producers
and institutions to create this festival. Part of
her innovative mission is to bring in presenters
of cutting edge work from around the country
and show-case new works that they could participate
in furthering. One example is a forthcoming
connection of Prototype with Fort Worth Opera
and the Los Angeles Opera and the Red Cat, a
smaller Los ngeles venue. This partnership will
move Dog Days by composer David Little into
two new presentations in the next two years. This
gritty opera of the days following an Apocalyptic
post-war setting has a libretto by Royce Vavrek.
Another opera by the same team is called JFK and is likely to follow a similar shared production
Meanwhile, veteran composers new and rare
works are also being championed. Last month
Bay Area Composer Kirke Meacham enjoyed the
NY premiere of his 2002 take on The Rivals, the
famed Restoration comedy farce by Sheridan. It
was presented by Bronx Opera at the Kaye Playhouse
in midtown Manhattan’s Hunter College.
Meacham’s first opera, Tartuffe, produced by
both SFO and Opera San José may be the most
perfomed American opera, with at least 350 separate
And another Bay Area alumna, Conductor Sara
Jobin, now music director for New York’s Center
for Contemporary Opera, last month presented El
Cimarron by Hans Werner Henze. The venue was
Symphony Space in upper Manhattan.
So, for the adventurous who don’t mind traveling, there is literally a bountiful harvest of new
and rarely performed new opera works to replenish
the future repertories.
(SJOG Newsletter February, 2014)
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