AOP mourns the passing of poet and librettist J. D. McClatchy, known to his friends as ‘Sandy,’ who died on Tuesday in his Manhattan apartment after battling cancer. One of McClatchy’s final librettos was an adaptation of internationally acclaimed 1958 novel Il Gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa into The Leopard, an opera currently in development at AOP with music by Michael Dellaira. It was Dellaira’s third collaboration with McClatchy following The Secret Agent (2011) and The Death of Webern (2013).
“It was a privilege and a pleasure to have worked with Sandy for the past twelve years, during which time we wrote three operas together,” Dellaira told AOP. “We had just finished putting the finishing touches on our last, The Leopard, which Sandy called his “crowning achievement.” Sandy McClatchy was a man of words, always the right words, not just for his brilliant libretti, poems, and translations, but ready, and I mean instantly ready, to encourage – or console – his many friends. I’m lucky to have been one of them.”
J. D. McClatchy on libretto writing: “Poetry was a good preparation, because it is as much an art of leaving things out as of putting things in. That search for the perfect word or the balanced line comes in handy when you are working in a form that demands a great deal of concision, and where you have to turn over the emotional argument to the music.”
McClatchy was well known and respected in the opera community for his librettos for Our Town, composed by Ned Rorem and based on Thornton Wilder’s play, Miss Lonelyhearts, composed by Lowell Liebermann and based on the Nathanael West novel; Orpheus Descending, by Bruce Saylor, based on Tennessee Williams’s play; and Dolores Claiborne, by Tobias Picker, based on the Stephen King novel.
In 2014, audiences packed the event space at Poetry House in Manhattan to hear McClatchy speak about his craft. The AOP produced event was to be followed by the first public libretto reading of The Leopard, but had to be cancelled after an upstairs bathroom flooded and began seeping down into the room as McClatchy spoke. As the slow drip from the ceiling caused the audience to squeeze in even tighter to stay dry, McClatchy did all he could to keep the show going until the fire department arrived and forced the building to evacuate. As the guests and artists were ushered outside, McClatchy was disappointed that the crowd missed out on hearing his libretto read, but mused, “At first I thought it was a sign from God. Apparently it was just a bowel movement. Ah well. They deserve equal thanks for inspiring great art as well.”
The Leopard has been commissioned by and is currently in development at American Opera Projects, made possible, in part, through generous funding by The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and The Paul Underwood Charitable Trust.