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Seattle Opera Premiere: An American Dream

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An American Dream, commissioned by Seattle Opera, receives its world premiere with that company at McCaw Hall on August 21, 2015.  Peter Kazaras directs this amazing cast, which includes D’Ana Lombard, Morgan Smith, Adam Lau, Nina logo-seattle-opera-2015Yoshida-Nelsen and HaeJi Chaeng. Judith Yan is our musical director. I’m in good hands!

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An American Dream began as a personal storytelling project hosted by Seattle Opera and the Seattle Film Festival, asking this question: If you had to leave you home today and couldn’t return, what would you take with you, and why is that object – that connection to your past – so important?

What evolved from this inquiry was a taut, finely-woven tale based on the personal experiences of several Puget Sound residents: A Japanese-American family burns their precious belongings from Japan in an attempt to avoid arrest during World War II. The daughter, Setsuko, manages to hide her beloved Hina Matsuri doll before they’re forced to leave their home. A new couple, Jim and Eva, move into the home. Eva, a German Jewish immigrant who is preoccupied by her family’s situation in Germany, doesn’t know the circumstances by which her husband acquired the home. She slowly discovers the truth, both about the family who left and her own.


West Coast Premiere: River of Light

Well, my Bay Area friends, finally an opera event closer to home!

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 12.20.04 PMI’m pleased to announce River of Light will receive its west coast premiere with Festival Opera on November 13 & 14 2015 at the Shadelands Art Center, Walnut Creek, CA.

River of Light tells a new version of the immigrant story through the eyes of one woman. Having moved from India, Meera loves her new husband, her high-powered job, and her lifestyle—until the birth of her daughter makes her long to recreate authentic Diwali traditions at home.

Traditional Indian instruments (sitar & tabla) and dancers augment the cast and orchestra for the production. Choreography by Antonia Minnecola, a rare American artist recognized as a leading exponent of North Indian Kathak dance.

Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, and with a libretto by award-winning novelist, poet and activist Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, River of Light shares a double bill with Savitri, by one of my all-time composer-heroes, Gustav Holst. Savitri is a chamber opera in one act based on the episode of Savitri and Satyavan from the Mahābhārata. 

See you at the premiere!

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“A Captivating Community Opera”

Unknown-1Soaring voices drifted to the soaring ceilings of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels two nights last weekend, but it was not a church service. It was community opera: a combination of the powerful music of grand opera with the sweetness and fun of a school play. It was also the world premiere of “Jonah and the Whale,” a one-hour, single-act work, performed by more than 400 members of the arts community, some of them still in grade school. It was the eighth such program by Los Angeles Opera Off Grand.

These two performances drew two nearly sold out audiences that filled the 3,000-seat cathedral, many obviously friends and family Unknownmembers of the cast. The production was charming and the singing glorious. Matthew O’Neill as Jonah projected in strong tones the proper reluctance to leave Israel, where he was quite comfortable, to become a prophet in Assyria, an enemy nation. March 19, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Jonah and the Whale Dress Rehearsal LA Opera Education Department presents “Jonah and the Whale”.  Photos taken in ‘Our Lady of the Angels’ cathedral, Los Angeles, CA, USA Mandatory Credit: Photo by Robert Millard (©) Copyright 2014 Robert Millard www.MillardPhotos.com

Despite urging from his mother (sung ably by Cassandra Zoe Velasco), and the fact that his former betrothed Sarah (an enthralling soprano, Hae Ji Chang) had been kidnapped and held in that country, Jonah flees in a ship bound for Spain, where he plans to begin a new life. An other-worldy storm at sea, however, leads the sailors to believe God was punishing Jonah for something, and despite the protestations of the captain (Valentin Aniken) they persuade him to jump to spare them. Most of us know what happens next: Jonah wakes up in the belly of a giant whale, but is allowed to escape when he sees the error of his ways and heads for Assyria.

The fanciful sets built around the altar were simple, yet clever, from the painted wooden waves that suggested the ocean, to the ribs inside the great whale. Dozens of children wearing full fish heads or costumes that transformed them into starfish and octopuses represented sea life. The triumph was the construction of a whale, done in pieces and carried around the stage and down the center aisle by human attendants, undulating perfectly, as a whale would.

The acoustics inside the cathedral were just fair: L.A. Opera’s Music Director James Conlon drew energy and vigor from the musicians who came from L.A. Opera, the Colburn School, Hamilton High School Academy of Music, and the Celebration Ringers of Lake Avenue Church in Pasadena. The chorus — made up of the cathedral’s choir, Pueri Cantores San Gabriel Valley Children’s Choir, Sacred Heart School Choir and Schola Cantorum, Holy Family Childrens Concert Chorus and Filipino Chorale, and the Music Center Usher Choir — were tucked behind the stage, and seemed somewhat muffled; that was unfortunate since those singers represented the voice of God.

“Jonah and the Whale” was L.A. Opera’s first commissioned work for the Off Grand program. Composer Jack Perla and librettist Velina Hasu Houston delivered a gorgeous work that included songs to be sung by the Congregation (the audience) based in part on old American folk tunes. The direction by Eli Villanueva was spot-on.

Normally L.A. Opera productions are staged in the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion at the Music Center, which is on Grand Avenue downtown. The Off Grand events cover special performances in other venues, including the downtown cathedral. Tickets are free but must be reserved in advance. “Opera was born in the church in medieval times,” Conlon told the audience on Saturday night. “Operas began as the theatrical realization of some of the passion plays and Bible stories.”

Opera has come a long way in developing as its own fine art, but Conlon wanted to return to its roots and open up the experience of beautiful music and engaging stories to families, as performers and audience. The first such production was Benjamin Britten’s “Noah’s Flood” in 2007, which was repeated several times over the last several years, in rotation with two other short operas.

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Jonah: “Opera Audience Gets a New Role”

Unknown-1The latest example of Los Angeles Opera’s effort to bring new audiences to the art form is its ‘Jonah and the Whale’ production, which included a singalong and free tickets.
By Gloria Goodale, Staff writer | 

0421-L2MIX-LA-OPERA
Mix a singalong, some classical performers, and a well-loved Bible tale and if you strike just the right notes, you will get Los Angeles Opera’s latest initiative to shed its formal trappings and recast the art form as a community experience for audiences.

During two days in March, the nation’s youngest, large-scale opera company presented the critically lauded “Jonah and the Whale,” an hour-long première inside the city’s new downtown modern cathedral.

Local children clad in elaborate and colorful silk costumes played sea creatures – fish, squid, and starfish – swirling around Jonah as he fell into the ocean. Pro and amateur musicians from L.A. Opera, The Colburn Music School, the Academy of Music at Hamilton High School, and Celebration Ringers of Pasadena’s Lake Avenue Church made up the orchestra.

From the start, it was clear this would not be your father’s opera. Tickets were free of charge. Children in jeans made up a section of the audience. And, oh yes, the audience participated in a “rehearsal” so all could sing along at key moments.

This deep reach into the local community is the outgrowth of L.A. Opera’s ongoing commitment to bring new audiences to an old art form.

The inspiration behind this latest performance began during the celebration of Benjamin Britten’s 100th birthday in 2013. The company produced the British composer’s community masterwork, “Noye’s Fludde,” which calls for the community to perform alongside professionals.

“Having admired and conducted Benjamin Britten’s ‘Noye’s Fludde’ for many years, I felt that there should be more works like it that bring together the entire musical community, combining professional and amateur musicians, choirs, soloists, and – most of all – children,” says James Conlon, L.A. Opera music director, via e-mail. While the scale of “Noye’s Fludde” has never been replicated, he says “Jonah and the Whale” is a first step toward performing works with more audience participation. This kind of community opera, and one that exposes children to classical works, is important to the future of opera, he says.

The ability of the company to take these professionals and meld them with more than 400 people from schools and churches in the area is unique, says Robert Thomas, music critic for the Pasadena Star-News. “This project sets the bar high for other companies but not unreasonably high,” he adds in an e-mail. In an era in which many public schools are cutting back arts education, “these sorts of ventures help to fill that gap,” notes Mr. Thomas.

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Los Angeles Opera Premiere: Jonah & the Whale

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Jonah & the Whale was commissioned by Los Angeles Opera. With a wonderful, imaginative libretto by Velina Hasu Houston, the piece re-imagines the biblical hero’s struggle with God & faith, his reluctance to forgive, and ultimate enlightenment through the encouragement of a feisty chorus of krill and other sea-creatures met in the belly of the famous whale. Based on the familiar Old Testament tale, Jonah and the Whale explores the universal themes of overcoming personal fear and the burden of responsibility for the greater good of humankind. When God asks Jonah to prophesy to the sinful people of Nineveh, the fearful Jonah attempts to flee by sea, where he is thrown overboard during a storm. A great fish swallows Jonah, but he emerges safely after agreeing to fulfill God’s orders.

Cathedral of our Lady of the Angels
555 West Temple Street, Los Angeles, CA 9001

more info…

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Houston Grand Opera Premiere: River of Light

RIVER-art-newCommissioned by Houston Grand Opera, River of Light is the final work in the East + West series. With a libretto by beloved author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni,  the work is a brief one-act opera dramatizing main character Meera’s yearning for an authentic Diwali celebration in Houston, far from her home and family in India. Over the course of the 30 minute piece, Meera comes to a new understanding of the true meaning of Diwali. River of Light incorporates North Indian raga and bhajans, and blends sitar, harmonium & tabla with piano, violin, cello and operatic voices.

7:30pm, March 29 & 2pm March 30, 2014
The Asia Society of Houston
1370 Southmore Blvd.
Houston, TX 77004

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Premiere: “Pretty Boy” at Z-Space

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce gifted young tenor James Rodgers will be joining forces with the Paul Dresher Ensemble for the premiere of my new Electro-acoustic song cycle – Pretty Boy, December 14 & 15 at Z-Space, San Francisco.

James has it all – an incredible actor, a voice from the heavens, deep opera & music theater background. He’s going to be an amazing Floyd, I hope to see you at Z-Space!


Opera Theater St. Louis: Shalimar the Clown

I’ve been commissioned by Opera Theater St. Louis to compose a full length opera for their 2015 season, based on Salman Rushdie’s novel “Shalimar the Clown”. James Robinson will direct the production. This is incredibly thrilling – many of my friends know that Shalimar has been a dream project for some years now; I’m still adjusting to the fact that it’s happening! I’m enormously grateful to visionary director Jim Robinson for taking the leadership role in finding a home for Shalimar, and I couldn’t ask for a better one than OTSL – an inspiring organization with a record of producing challenging, innovative new work and powerful productions.

DIRECTOR James Robinson is regarded as one of America’s most inventive and sought-after stage directors. He has won wide acclaim for productions that range from the standard repertory to world premieres to seldom performed works, and he is considered the most widely performed director of opera in North America. Past season productions include Il Trittico at San Francisco Opera, Casanova’s Homecoming at Minnesota Opera, The Ghosts of Versailles at Wexford Festival Opera, and Abduction From The Seraglio at Welsh National Opera. In 2008, James was appointed Artistic Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis.

OTSL Press Release

Opera Theatre announces $1 million grant, three new operas - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis is one of the leading American opera companies, known for a spring festival of inventive new productions, sung in English, featuring the finest American singers and accompanied by members of the St. Louis Symphony. As of 2012 Opera Theatre has presented 22 world premieres and 23 American premieres – which may be the highest percentage of new work in the repertory of any U.S. company. Described by The Sunday Times of London as “one of the few American companies worth the transatlantic fare,” Opera Theatre of Saint Louis welcomed visitors from 45 states and 12 foreign countries in 2011. Although the size of the theater limits box office income to 26% of the budget, the company has consistently produced work of the highest quality while never accumulating a deficit. Opera Theatre has always been known for distinguished leadership: founding general director Richard Gaddes was succeeded in 1985 by general director Charles MacKay, with famed British stage director Colin Graham as artistic director and Stephen Lord as music director. Timothy O’Leary was named General Director in October 2008 with Stephen Lord continuing as music director and acclaimed stage director James Robinson succeeding Colin Graham.

THE STORY

The political is personal, and nowhere more so than in Salman Rushdie’s 2005 novel “Shalimar the Clown”. The book’s themes of personal and political power and betrayal are played against the story of three generations of women, beginning in the “paradise lost” of rural Kashmir and culminating in late 20th century Los Angeles.  Shalimar is a young Muslim Kashmiri known for his gregarious personality and his skill as a tightrope walker.  His Romeo-and-Juliet romance with a Hindu girl named Boonyi manages to meet with approval from their families and their village, but the romance is shattered when an American ambassador begins an affair with Boonyi.  Shalimar goes on to train as an assassin and seeks revenge not only on the ambassador but also the child of the affair, a daughter named India, who lives in California.

Mr. Rushdie’s novel was a finalist for the 2005 Whitbread Book Awards, and has been described as “Rushdie’s greatest novel since The Satanic Verses” by The Los Angeles Times.  The novel’s magic-realist world incorporates Mr. Rushdie’s signature humor, balanced by a thrilling, sinister ending, which offers a bare glint of hope in the form of an unanswered question.


Seattle Opera: An American Dream

Belongings was commissioned by the Seattle Opera. It will be a one act opera scored for six singers and chamber orchestra. It’s an innovative project that started in partnership with several organizations including the Seattle film festival, which conducted extensive interviews with a wide range of Seattle are residents. The project grew out of those interviews.

Here’s more, from the Seattle Opera Website:

“For centuries, opera has championed the longago and far-away as one form of musical storytelling. What if we found a way for opera to celebrate the here and now, to explore stories of our time and our place? When an opera company commission a new work, it usually begins and ends with the compose rand librettist. This time we’re taking a different approach: we’re starting with your story and the stories of your friends, neighbors and other you pass by on the street. Belongings begins with an online repository of video interviews – a digital quilt that tells stories of our most precious possessions: this objects or memories that help us understand our lives, relationship and legacies.

Think about this: if you had to leave you home today, and couldn’t return, what would you take with you? Why is that object, or that memory, or that connection to your past so important?

Librettist Jessica Murphy Moo

Jessica Murphy Moo is a writer, teacher, and editor. Her fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, Image, and Memorious; her nonfiction has appeared in Poets & Writers Magazine and The Atlantic Online, among other publications. She has held teaching positions at Emerson College, Harvard University, Boston University, and Seattle Pacific University. She holds an MFA in fiction from Emerson College, and has been the recipient of the Milton Center Postgraduate Writing Fellowship and a Whiteley Center Writing Residency. In addition to the Belongings libretto, she is working on a new collection of short stories.


Houston Grand Opera: East West II

In 2010 I was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera for a one-act opera with playwright Eugenie Chan, for HGO’s East + West project, part of the multi-year “Song of Houston” series sponsored in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Courtside was the first East + West opera. It premiered in early 2011, and its success has led to a second commission to compose the final opera of the series. I’m thrilled to work with the wonderful HGOco team again, and feel especially honored to be selected both to initiate and close this innovative commissioning project.

Houston’s colorful past, present, and future set the stage for HGOco’s Song of Houston — an ongoing initiative that commissions works based on stories that define the city’s unique character. Song of Houston makes opera relevant through stories that engage hearts and minds. These stories are told through local, national, and international collaborative projects. More than 335,000 people have experienced Song of Houston through music making, photography, creative writing, and other programs that incorporate all of the arts.

East + West is a series of chamber operas that celebrate Houston as a meeting place for Eastern and Western cultures. A total of eight operas have been commissioned for the project. Each chamber opera honors culture and community through storytelling and music. HGOco engages artists and individuals from different countries, allowing us to create art about, by, and for Houston’s vibrant Asian cultures.


TwoSense: Persistence of the Blues

Just a quick note here, to say that Persistence of the Blues, my new piece for TwoSense, the powerhouse duo of pianist Lisa Moore and cellist Ashley Bathgate (Bang on a Can) is finished. It’s a beast – a single movement, twenty minute virtuoso composition. I can’t tell you how eager I am to hear these stunning performers play (the hell out of) it! TwoSense will announce dates soon for a 2013 premiere and subsequent performances in New York, San Francisco and beyond.

Many thanks to the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition for commissioning this work.


The Paul Dresher Ensemble: Pretty Boy

I’m delighted to announce performance dates for Pretty Boy, with the Paul Dresher Ensemble!!

December 14 & 15, Z-Space, San Francisco, CA

Pretty Boy is a new electro-acoustic composition, a mono-drama for tenor and instruments focussing on the last minutes in the life of the American bank robber and folk-hero Charles Pretty Boy Floyd. Floyd is an interesting character for so many reasons, notably his daring, legendary heists and preternatural ability to escape law enforcement. He was often romanticized as an depression-era Robin Hood, and in fact he did give large portions of his “earnings” to family, friends, and even to mere acquaintances. But the narrative thread that most inspired both me and author David Brock this cycle had to do with Floyd’s ever increasing isolation. A gregarious family man, the more his fame increased, the more he became a valuable target of an ambitious, young J.Edgar Hoover. As such, he was constantly hunted, and unable return to his beloved wife and young son.

The Paul Dresher Ensemble interprets the ideas and sounds of today’s most innovative and irreverent composers. With energy, virtuosity and incredible attention to the theatrical dimensions of performance, it produces and tours its own works of opera and experimental music theater (developed in collaboration with Obie Award-winning performer Rinde Eckert), and as the Electro-Acoustic Band performs the work of an amazing range of contemporary composers with instrumentation that combines traditional acoustic and contemporary electronic instruments. Virtuoso solo performers like Terry Riley, Joan Jeanrenaud and David Abel frequently join the Electro- Acoustic Band for concerts that redefine contemporary chamber music.

Author David Brock

David Brock is a playwright, poet and librettist. He created a beautiful set of original poems for this project that weave a vivid picture of Floyd – his bravado, fear of capture, loves, deep regrets and final last words. David is the winner of the 2011 Herman Voaden Playwriting Award for his play Wet. His chapbooks of poetry are Gasmask Summer (Emergency Response Unit) and Black Metal Melody (Ferno House). A first collection of poems is forthcoming from Wolsak and Wynn in 2014. His operas have been produced across Canada, the United States, and Europe. He has an MFA from the University of Guelph and currently lives in Toronto. He is currently writing text for a black metal opera (bands and sopranos wanted).


Oakland Youth Orchestra: The Rhyme is Reason

I was also recently commissioned for a new work for the Oakland Youth Orchestra, for their 2013 season and tour. Under the guidance of my good friend, Artistic Director Michael Morgan, the Oakland Youth Orchestra is recognized as an outstanding musical organization in Oakland and the San Francisco Bay area. Today OYO consists of seventyfive talented music students aged 12 to 22 from throughout the region. OYO maintains a commitment to cultural exchange, and has toured extensively in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Caribbean Islands, Costa Rica, Mexico and Cuba, Italy, and in June 2004, Australia and New Zealand, and in 2007, Greece. The premier will be led by Principal Conductor John Kendall Bailey, an outstanding orchestral conductor, choral director and composer.


Two New Songbooks

I was honored to be asked to contribute to two important songbook collections in 2012. The Opera America Songbook was a commissioning project in conjunction with Schott Music, as part of the activities celebrating the opening of the new National Opera Center. I set James Fenton’s delightful poem “Down to the Twigs and Seeds”, sung at the opening concert by soprano Sarah Jakubiak.

The Opera America Songbook

I also was honored earlier this year when pianist Thomas Bagwell called to ask if I’d contribute a setting of poet Steven Cordova’s “Across a Table”, for the 20th Anniversary edition of the Aids Quilt Memorial Songbook. The presentation will include songs from the 1992 premiere, written by William Parker, as well as songs written for various regional performances of the piece over the last two decades and brand new songs written especially for this performance by me and composers Robert Aldridge, Stephen Dembeski, Herschel Garfein, Gilda Lyons and Wolfram Wagner. Among the performers will be Stephanie Blythe, Amy Burton, Adrienne Danrich, Anthony Dean Griffey, Suzanne Mentzer, Kurt Ollmann, Sidney Outlaw, Randall Scarlata, William Sharp, Michael Slattery, Sanford Sylvan, Monica Yunus, and Camille Zamora.

The performance will be at Cooper Union’s Great Hall, on December 1st, 2012.

20th Anniversary AIDS quilt Songbook


Premiere: Love/Hate at ODC Theater

This week, Love/Hate receives its world premiere in an innovative partnership between ODC Theater and the San Francisco Opera! With four singers from SF Opera’s Adler Fellowship program, live chamber ensemble, stage direction by M. Graham Smith and choreography by Chris Black, we’re truly blessed. It’s a gift to have one’s work rendered at this level! I’ll be posting photos and video as we move into the theatre for staging and full rehearsals. Sheri Greenawald, Mark Morash and everyone at the San Francisco Opera Center, and Christy Bolingbrook and the entire staff at ODC Theatre have been a dream team to work with. I’m a bit tired, but I’m having a wonderful time!
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Love/Hate San Francisco World Premiere 

April 12, 14, 15
ODC Theater, San Francisco

Cast and Crew
Marina Boudart-Harris, soprano

Laura Krumm, mezzo-soprano
Thomas Glenn, tenor
Ao Li, baritone
Robert Mollicone, music director/pianist
David Hanlon, conductor
M. Graham Smith, director
Chris Black, choreographer
Stephanie Buchner, lighting design
Bethanie Baeyen, stage management/scenic elements

With special thanks for the stewardship of Sheri Greenawald, Mark Morash, and Sandra Bernhardt