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Seven Operatic Premieres

Music by:
      Andrew Austin, Ethan Bauer, Natalie Draper, Ian Hockett,
      Michael Rickelton, Kyle Rotolo, and James Young

Texts by:
      Daniel Hartis, Elizabeth Reeves, Jonathan Wagstaff,
      and the composers

Roger Brunyate, artistic director

JoAnn Kulesza, music director

Monday, May 7, 2012, at 7:30 PM

Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall

Admission free

Peabody Opera home

Artistic Director Roger Brunyate writes:

Two murders, an offstage suicide, sisters fighting over their father’s will, the last hours in liberty of a corrupt Italian politician, Edgar Allan Poe hallucinating in a Baltimore bar, the earth taken over by extraterrestrial aliens‒ with subjects such as these, the final program of the Peabody Opera season has a distinctly apocalyptic feel. How did all of this come about, and what may audiences expect?

The seven short operas premiered this evening are the latest products of the program of Opera Études that I have been running roughly every other year since 1985, bringing the total of such works to over 70. The purpose is to have singers not only perform new music but get involved in the creation of it. Each year, I come up with a general theme. The composers, who have already worked with me in an opera seminar, suggest their own approaches to it. They bring their ideas to the singers, who improvise dramatically on the ideas over about two weeks of exploratory sessions, working with the composers to invent, suggest, and adapt until the scenarios take shape. We then hold a “draft” in which the composers choose the singers for their particular piece; from then on, they are writing specifically for that artist and the character that he or she has created. Some of the composers write their own texts, often incorporating exchanges improvised in the earlier sessions; others use separate librettists to get their texts into shape. In every case, however, the singers will own their roles, having put their own stamp on the characters before even a note is written. They will not go back to perform even standard roles in the same way again.

I don’t know why, but the preliminary ideas that the composers came up with on this occasion all seemed to have something to do with endings or death. So what? Puccini wrote his highly-successful Trittico on the theme of death, and I believe you will find these operas — although much shorter, at 15 minutes each — equally varied. They range from the domestic drama of Trio to the stylized ritual of Discrete Scenes from a Murder, from the comedy of The Truth is Not Out There to the psychodrama of Truly Good. Three of the pieces are haunted by memories of real people: Poe in No Balm in Gilead, Marilyn Monroe in Marilyn’s Room, and (just perhaps) Silvio Berlusconi in Don Cesarino. While all seven pieces are genuine operas, their musical styles vary greatly. Opera composition in the Twenty-First Century will be alive and well for many years to come.


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Discrete Scenes from a Murder

Text and Music by Andrew Austin

Although based upon the murder of a post-doctoral student in Charles Village some years ago, Austin’s opera is highly stylized, looking into the mental landscapes of those involved rather than the details of the event. Three singers, a woman and two men, share the roles of the victim, the male and female killers, the judge at the trial, and the victim’s mother, who had been talking with her son by cell phone only moments before he died.
With Seana Grace-Johnson, Zachary Tallman, and Joshua Zanze.



Don Cesarino

Text by Elizabeth Reeves
Music by Ethan Braun

An aging Italian politician who has lived his life above the law, Don Cesarino awaits the outcome of what he assumes will be yet another positive vote of confidence in his government. Attending him at his palatial villa are his blindly devoted mistress, Giulia, and his new diversion, Meiju, a thirteen-year-old "imported" from China. Into this scene, his estranged wife, Veronica, appears to warn him that his enemies intend more than an end to his political career: they have learned of Meiju’s plight and want him arrested.
With Belinda Lau, Elizabeth Reeves, Katherine Ascani Runkle, and Howard Shaver.
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Text and Music by Natalie Draper

Family alliances and tensions come to the fore when three sisters meet to go over the will of their recently deceased father. Kat, the oldest, is a practical-minded artist who has been looking after their father in his last years. Anna, the much favored youngest sister, has gone on to a successful career in law. Sue, the middle sister, somewhat belittled by her siblings, arrives late, flustered from her busy life as mother and teacher.
With Zoë Band, Yun Kyong Lee, and Abigail Runkle.



The Truth is Not Out There

Text by Jonathan Wagstaff
Music by Ian Hockett

Some time ago the White House pledged to hold a press conference on any issue getting a sufficient number of signatories to a petition—though they subsequently found it necessary to raise the threshold, to avoid spending time on trivia. This comedy imagines one such question, about the existence of extra-terrestrial aliens. Space expert Phil Larson and his secretary have some difficulty convincing reporters that no credible evidence exists, but at last the conference ends and they are left alone….
With Nicholas Dogas, Christa Monokrousos, Ittinat Seeboonruang, and Elizabeth Walton.
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No Balm in Gilead

Text by Daniel Hartis
Music by Michael Rickelton

On October 7, 1849, Edgar Allan Poe died outside a bar in Baltimore. This opera imagines his last moments. Drinking absinthe and barely lucid, he imagines that the barmaid is his wife Virginia, who died of tuberculosis only two years earlier, at the age of 25. Two other women appear, who introduce themselves as Lenore and Annabel Lee, figures from his poems who accuse him of depriving them of life and love, creating them only to have them die. Tormented between tragic reality and fierce illusion, Poe staggers out into the night.
With Juliana Burdick, Eric Carey, Mackenzie Florence, and Leslie Procter.



Marilyn’s Room

Text and Music by Kyle Rotolo

The opera is a study of how our perceptions may be distorted by the celebrity or notoriety surrounding a famous person, and our tendency to use such people as role models or objects of scorn. Set among the housekeeping staff in a theatrical version of a Beverly Hills hotel, the opera is clearly inspired by the meteoric rise and suicide of Marilyn Monroe, but its action is moved to the present, and its offstage diva might have many equivalents today.
With David Artz, Rebecca Evans, Rachel Grider, and Lori Ann Sundberg.
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Truly Good

Text and Music by James Young

The protagonist in this two-woman opera prays to lead a good life. But to be truly good, she thinks, she has to know absolute evil in order to reject it. Her sacrificial lamb turns out to be a relatively new arrival to the city, worried about her sister, who has called her from a distant location, at the very far end of the subway. The two women will meet on the train, and destiny will take its course.
With Danielle Buonaiuto and Amanda Williams.