Sunday, February 28, 2010

First Legs

On Wednesday I'll be rehearsing in New Haven with the singers from the Yale School of Music who will be with me on the mini-tour March 9-10-11 (New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco) arranged by the Association of Yale Alumni. We'll be performing 4 arias from Before Night Falls, and I'll be talking about the opera; the General Director of Fort Worth Opera, Darren Woods, will join us for the event in L.A. It promises to be a very exciting three days!

And if you care to hear about one of the thousand unnatural shocks that opera scores are heir to: late on Friday afternoon I stopped by the Printer at the College to see how the big job, copying and binding the orchestral score — 355 pages, 11x17 — was coming along; I was told I could take home the single-sided masters, as the copies were done and ready to be bound on Monday morning. The office had run off the masters from the pdf files I gave them (recall: my printer at home is on the fritz!). Having learned the hard way, I double-checked the pages on Saturday morning, on a sudden inspiration, to make sure they were all there and in order.... and indeed I found that p. 34-58 were UPSIDE DOWN!! I had already seen the four scores in the office, stacked and ready to be bound, so I frantically left messages on two phones at the office on Saturday so that Monday morning they might catch this snafu. I called this morning again to make sure — now I can only hope it's all going to be OK.... because I HAVE to send the scores off to Fort Worth today!!

Back to our backstory:


One day, in 2002 or 2003, I ran into an old opera friend in New York City and told him about my project. Without telling me he ran around the corner to the Barnes and Noble and
bought himself a copy of the memoir and read it — and next day told me he LOVED the book but that he couldn’t imagine HOW it could be an opera. I showed him my treatment and he came back to me saying, you know what, this could make a great opera! After all I'd been through, that felt very vindicating, let me tell you. He suggested that I get in touch with American Opera Projects, based in Brooklyn, to workshop the opera. I thought this would be
an excellent way to see the work “on legs,” as they say, and to let it be
known, out there in the opera world, that it existed, and to work out any kinks.

AOP presented a piano reading of the first 2/3 of Act One in 2004, and the
second 2/3 of Act One in 2005 in Manhattan, which the New York Times
reviewed, most unusually, for an unstaged piano partial reading of
a work in progress.... and a very nice review it was. Unbeknownst to me,
David Gately was in the audience at the first reading, and he advised
Darren Woods this might be a work to keep an eye on. But at that time both
those gentlemen were quite unknown to me.

Funding, however, ran out, and AOP dropped BNF. Mark Shapiro, who had been
music director for the first reading, and an old college classmate of mine
from Yale, had an idea: why don’t I prepare a suite, a cantata, of music
from the opera for his chorus in New Jersey to perform, with orchestra?
What a great idea! He cast five soloists, including Met veteran Barbaba
Dever as the Sea and Angela Meade as the Moon; Meade would win the Met
Auditions the week after the premiere of the cantata! I called the resulting suite
“Stronger Than Darkness.” One great thing about this performance was that I then had a tape to show what the orchestration sounded like — and
happily, the Monmouth Civic Chorus won a programming award for having
premiered a new work.

But still, there I was, with one act of the opera read, and no interest.

The other great coup came in 2006 when I received a call from Allison Voth
at Boston University. BU’s Opera Institute had produced my one-act “Tobermory” a few years before as part of their fall Fringe Festival, and they wanted to know if
I had anything about an hour long, and, oh, by the way, the theme of the
festival this year is “Freedom.” I said, well, would you consider
presenting the 55-minute Act Two of my opera Before Night Falls? And it was a deal! I
suggested they hire the stage director Beth Greenberg, who had been a
great champion of BNF and a great friend. Beth worked stage magic with minimal means, in a black box. With a young ensemble of five
instrumentalists, with William Lumpkin conducting, and a cast ranging from undergraduates to Master’s
candidates, they put on four performances, double cast. Now I could offer
a recording of the entire opera from three different readings, and also
excerpts with orchestra.

But that was still not enough to get movement toward a full production of the opera....

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