San José Opera Guild Official Web Site

SJOG Lectures
Opera in SF Bay Area
About SJOG

Supporting the Operatic Arts in the Bay Area

SJOG Travelers

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 approach.

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 productions.

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)

To top of page

Read past "Travelers" in the Archives


The San José Opera Guild
P. O. Box 33025, Los Gatos, CA 95031-3025
Banner photos by Bob Shomler
©San José Opera Guild   2012