Gregory Spears‘ opera Paul’s Case received high praise for its recent sold-out NYC premiere at PROTOtype Festival. Press called it a “masterpiece…tempting to call it ‘the best new opera I’ve heard in years'” (NY Observer) and “a taut, splendid operatic adaptation” (NY Times). Spears’ vocal writing was lauded as “ravishing” and “especially admirable” and librettist Kathryn Walat’s adaptation of the original Willa Cather short story “finely made” (New York Classical Review). Jonathan Blalock, who reprised his role from the opera’s premiere at UrbanArias last April, had “even more theatrical and vocal authority as Paul” (Wall Street Journal). AOP began development of the opera during the 2008-09 season of Composers & the Voice. A new production of the opera will appear at Pittsburgh Opera in February.
In its profile of the current fusion of opera and dance, the Fall 2013 issue of OPERA America Magazine singled out AOP’s Wolf-in-Skins as a prime example of the form.
Composer Gregory Spears, who is collaborating with librettist Christopher Williams on the opera Wolf-in-Skins, says that when it comes to propelling narrative opera and dance each have their own particular strengths. “Opera excels at portraying a character’s inner monologue and builds tension through anticipation and reflection,” he says, whereas dance is “action expressed through movement.”
Williams, a trained dancer, is also the works’ director and choreographer. “As a director, I have a tool belt from which I can pull out whatever tools are necessary to tell the story,” he says. “I don’t see boundaries between the art forms and each has an ideal way to convey the narrative at that moment.” In Wolf-in-Skins the Singers also dance.
Williams felt that the epic nature of Wolf-in-Skins required equal contributions from opera, dance and the visual arts, and takes his cues from Wagner’s gesamtkunstwerk and Diaghilev’s Ballet Russe, where collaborations were forged among Stravinsky, Debussy, Picasso, Matisse, Balanchine and Massine. Portions of Wolf-in-Skins were performed earlier this year with Philadelphia Dance projects and co-presented by American Opera Projects, which has also helped developed the work.
The complete article, written by Patricia Kiernan Johnson, is available online to OPERA America members and downloadable at the iTunes Store. Wolf-in-Skins is currently in development at AOP.
OPERA America will be presenting The Summer King and Judgment of Midas as part of their New Works Forum, a series of showcases of works-in-progress and recent premieres. Now in its third year, the New Works Forum will take place January 12-15, 2014 in the Audition Recital Hall at the National Opera Center in New York City. Panel discussions will accompany performances and explore the developmental process.
The Summer King (music by Daniel Sonenberg, libretto by Sonenberg & Daniel Nester) covers the legacy of Negro League baseball player Josh Gibson. Dubbed “the black Babe Ruth”, Gibson was the second Negro League player to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. The opera explores the racial tensions surrounding black-owned teams and delves into the stadium culture of the 1930s. The Summer King will have its world premiere with Portland Ovations in May 2014.
Judgment of Midas (music by Kamran Ince, libretto by Miriam Seidel) takes as its starting point a series of mythical musical contests said to have taken place on Mount Tmolus, Turkey. Witnessed by King Midas, the contests pit the gods Pan and Apollo against each other in a struggle between ‘street’ music and ‘high’ music. Judgment of Midas had its world premiere in Milwaukee with Present Music in April, 2013.
The 2014 New Works Forum has been scheduled to coincide with PROTOTYPE Festival, presented by HERE and Beth Morrison Projects. Paul’s Case (music by Gregory Spears, libretto by Spears and Kathryn Walat), will be among the works featured at PROTOTYPE. Originating from AOP’s Composers and the Voice program, the opera follows the story of Paul, a high school dandy living in turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh who runs away to revel in the luxuries of New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.
Performances at the New Works Forum are only open to OPERA America members. Previous AOP operas featured at the forum include Heart of Darkness, The Golden Gate, and Wolf-in-Skins. PROTOTYPE Festival is open to the public.
Hot off its premiere with UrbanArias in April, Paul’s Case will be presented as part of PROTOTYPE Festival’s 2014 series. With music by Gregory Spears and a libretto by the composer and Kathryn Walat, Paul’s Case is based on a Willa Cather short story from 1905. The opera follows Paul, a student in turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh who tries navigate his journey to adulthood and find an outlet for his artistic energies. Reacting to his middle-class surroundings, Paul cultivates the image of a dandy and steals money from his father’s business. He runs away to New York City to experience true freedom for the first time. Paul’s Case was developed by AOP and the original cast and production from its UrbanArias premiere will be brought to the festival. Tenor Jonathan Blalock sings the lead role. Performances will take place Jan 8, 9, 11, 12 & 13 at 145 Sixth Avenue. To buy tickets, click here.
PROTOTYPE Festival was launched in January 2013 as an annual festival for visionary opera and music theater works by artists from New York and around the world.
April has been busy and gratifying for AOP and we are just about a third of the way through our 25th year (stay tuned for announcements about anniversary events). Just as we finished up workshops for our upcoming July premiere of The Blind at Lincoln Center Festival, two AOP-developed works received their world premieres at regional opera companies. Even better, they are resounding successes. AOP develops new work and partners with companies across the country because of leadership support from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and many generous individuals.
Present Music and Milwaukee Opera Theater co-produced Judgment of Midas on April 12 & 13. The extravagant, Turkish influenced music by composer Kamran Ince supplies “an orgiastic climax as crazed and hair-raising as anything I’ve heard in all of opera” (ThirdCoastDaily.com). It is a large scale comedy with six principles and a small chorus.
UrbanArias began two week premiere run of a chamber opera, Paul’s Case, at Artisphere in Arlington, VA (Washington, DC) on April 20. Based on a story by Willa Cather, Paul’s Case is
“…an arresting little piece that communicates its haunting story with clarity and a sense of inevitability.” (The Washington Post)
“Composer Gregory Spears combines minimalism, baroque gestures, and extended vocal techniques into a distinctive and pungent musical language . . . the overall pacing is taut, the nine-piece orchestration vivid and the denouement appropriately wrenching.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“The words ‘world premiere’ don’t always translate to ‘Must-See,’ but in the case of Paul’s Case… they’re synonymous.” (DC Metro Theater Arts)
“…the piece is nearly ready to claim a place in the chamber opera repertoire – thanks to a long-haul development process for which American Opera Projects deserves much credit.” (Arts Journal)
Visit AOP First Chance to follow the next round of operas on their way to premiere productions!