“Startling,” “gripping” THE ECHO DRIFT finishes “virtuoso” run at Prototype Festival

January 26, 2018

On January 20, the world premiere of THE ECHO DRIFT, with music by Mikael Karlsson, libretto by Elle Kunnos de Voss & Kathryn Walat, directed by Mallory Catlett and conducted by Nicholas DeMaison completed its six-performance run at Baruch Performing Arts Center in New York City as part of the 2018 Prototype Festival. Mezzo-soprano Blythe Gaissert starred as a convicted murderer trapped in a timeless prison and is unexpectedly befriended by a moth (actor John Kelly) with an offer of a perceived way to freedom. The experimental chamber opera, performed by members of ICE Ensemble and enhanced by electronic soundscape and animation, was enthusiastically received by both audiences and critics alike.

Blythe Gaissert as Walker Loats in The Echo Drift

“a startling science fiction conceit kickstarted the gripping one-act The Echo Drift. In this world premiere work, an inmate in a futuristic prison gets a visit from a talking moth that tries to persuade her than she can escape by rejecting her conventional sense of time and space. Everything about this presentation was virtuoso, from the psychedelic snarls and slithers in composer Mikael Karlsson’s orchestra writing to the sly, ironic whispers of actor John Kelly as the Moth. But the heart of the piece was the bravura singing of Blythe Gaissert as the panicky prisoner, her smoky mezzo biting into the wide-ranging and relentless vocal part with the violent abandon of a starving shark.” – The Observer

Stark and intricate, propulsive and a little film-noir, “The Echo Drift” is most exciting when it is fast and cacophonous, nearly overwhelming the senses.” – The New York Times

a totally original and stunning, immersive piece… with a scintillating score composed by Mikael Karlsson, and a brilliant environmental production by Elle Kunnos de Voss in their first collaboration. … Gaissert is wonderful as Loats, giving herself over totally to the fantasy world that the creators have presented to her, more than holding her own vocally in the powerful and audacious orchestral setting–by turns jazzy, acoustic, electronic, melodic, atonal, soothing, blasting–that the composer has devised.” – Broadway World

“seventy immersive minutes of six-channel surround sound and projected animations … The score was modest, absorbing, and lush …  For a story about a convicted murderer in solitary confinement, The Echo Drift is surprisingly accessible and apolitical. … Gaissert and Kelly fully embraced the sophisticated score and meta set, and The Echo Drift balanced an immersive multidimensional experience with a refreshing affirmation of human solidarity.” – I Care If You Listen

“Nicholas DeMaison conducted with unwavering clarity, helped by seven superb musicians from the International Contemporary Ensemble. Levy Lorenzo’s electronics wizardry—effectively an eighth instrument—creates unusually vivid textures, such as the complex, machine-like chords repeated near the end, tolling like otherworldly bells. … It is hard to sufficiently praise soprano Blythe Gaissert as Loats, singing tirelessly over the course of the opera’s 70 minutes.” – Musical America

“The Echo Drift struck an admirable balance between evocative score and creative composition, and is easily worthy of a pure listen without the staging. Karlsson’s subtle but crucial electronic elements were particularly noteworthy, threading through the live performers with magnetic textures… singers and musicians alike made this small chamber opera a grand production.” – Seen and Heard International

In a tension-filled final day, Gaissert took ill and made the difficult decision not to perform. Her cover Kathryn Krasovec stepped in with only a few hours of rehearsal under her belt and gave a powerful performance that captivated the audience on the opera’s final night.

The Echo Drift was commissioned, developed and produced by Beth Morrison Projects, HERE, and American Opera Projects. The Echo Drift was originally developed by Mikael Karlsson and Elle Kunnos de Voss in a full-length workshop presented by the Embassy of Sweden in Washington DC in 2014. Additional development was provided through the Opera Genesis Fellowship, a residency at the Hermitage Artist Retreat, made in partnership with American Opera Projects.

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Critics call PAUL’S CASE a “Masterpiece”

January 31, 2014

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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.


The Summer King, Judgment of Midas, and Paul’s Case to be featured in the Spring

October 29, 2013
The Summer King, Judgment of Midas, and Paul's Case

The Summer King, Judgment of Midas, and Paul’s Case

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.


A Second Case for Paul’s Case

August 22, 2013
Paul's Case

Paul’s Case as performed by UrbanAria at Artisphere in Arlington, VA.
(courtesy of PROTOTYPE Festival’s website)

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.


AMERICAN OPERA PROJECTS RECEIVES FUNDING FOR TWO NEW OPERAS FROM NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS (NEA)

January 29, 2012

BROOKLYN, NY – American Opera Projects (AOP) announces that composer Huang Ruo’s The Weeping Camel and composer Gregory Spears’s Paul’s Case are awarded $10,000 each from the National Endowment for the Arts  ART WORKS to support developmental workshop productions with AOP and partners. Both operas will be developed through AOP’s First Chance series that presents concert readings of new operas in an intimate format that allows for direct conversation between audience and artist. Operas that receive fully-staged premieres after passing through First Chance include Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness (London’s Royal Opera House), Jorge Martín’s Before Night Falls (Fort Worth Opera), and Stephen Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon (New York City Opera, Opera Santa Barbara), among many others.

Huang Ruo

Based on a true story that was the subject of an Academy Award-nominated documentary, The Weeping Camel follows a family of nomadic shepherds in Mongolia and their struggle to save a newborn camel calf through a native musical ritual.  The opera for audiences of all ages will integrate both Western and Chinese opera traditions with contemporary musical language as well as use Chinese masks and puppetry to tell its uplifting story about the spiritual power of music. The Weeping Camel composer Huang Ruo and librettist Candace Chong most recently collaborated on the opera Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, which received the world premiere of its Chinese orchestra version at the Hong Kong Culture Centre Theatre with four performances in 2011 and a recent debut at Le Poisson Rouge, January 10, 2012. American Opera Projects will develop The Weeping Camel in collaboration with New York City’s Symphony Space and the Guangzhou Opera House company in China.

Gregory Spears

Paul’s Case, by composer Gregory Spears with a libretto by Kathryn Walat based on the story by Willa Cather, is a two act chamber opera that chronicles the dissolution of a high school dandy living in sooty turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh. Initially developed during American Opera Projects’ Composers & the Voice residency program, has presented workshops of Paul’s Case at the Manhattan School of Music, OPERA America’s Opera Conference 2010 in Los Angeles, and at Center City Opera Theater in Philadelphia where it was noted for its “solid dramatic timing, compassionate characterizations, and huge potential” (Philadelphia Inquirer – David Patrick Stearns’ Best in Classical Music for 2009). The opera has been developed in part with grants from the BMI Foundation and the Virgil Thomson Foundation. Paul’s Case will complete development in Brooklyn during the 2012-13 season.

For complete project info, including audio and video samples, visit

Paul’s Case: www.operaprojects.org/paulscase

The Weeping Camel: www.operaprojects.org/weepingcamel

 PRESS MATERIALS AVAILABLE AT: www.operaprojects.org



Flashmob, Opera-Style: “Paul’s Case” around New York City

June 29, 2010
Paul's Case at Brooklyn Bridge Park

Thomas Wazelle (center, in bowler hat) and Dorian Balis (left, in vest) perform a scene from "Paul's Case" in Brooklyn Bridge Park

On June 21st, the first day of summer, AOP took part in Sing For Hope’s 2010 Make Music New York Festival, which placed upwards of 60 pianos in various locations around NYC. Making good use of pianos in the Brooklyn Bridge Park in DUMBO, the Band Shell in Central Park, and Columbus Circle, AOP took the stage with a scene from Act II of Paul’s Case, by composer Gregory Spears and librettist Kathryn Walat. As bystanders looked on, Thomas Wazelle and Dorian Balis, accompanied by Scott Rednour and lead by Silas Huff, performed opera in period dress.

Here’s a brief account of the Columbus Circle piano by the New York Post. Check out the 3:34pm entry for AOP’s contribution to the day of music!

While the performers showcased Paul’s Case, AOP was busy with both still and video cameras, recording the entire process. Expect a compilation video soon! In the meantime, go here to learn more about Paul’s Case, or check out this blog post to learn about where else this up-and-coming new opera is being performed!


“Enlightening” Performance of Paul’s Case in Los Angeles

June 29, 2010
Paul's Case in L.A.

The Opera America cast of Paul's Case, performing in L.A. on June 11th

AOP is pleased to announce the great success of the recent production of Paul’s Case, by composer Gregory Spears and Librettist Kathryn Walat, with Opera America’s New Works Sampler 2010! On Friday, June 11th, excerpts from Paul’s Case, featuring Hak Soo Kim in the title role, were performed alongside numerous other new operas at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

Robert E. Lee, President and Managing Director of AOP, traveled to California to be in the audience. “It was enlightening and encouraging to hear how well the piece came across with a new cast we’d never worked with before,” he said in an interview. “This fascinating new take on the opera was played in a more lyrical style. I’d been used to hearing its more angular, rhythmical elements, and so to hear such different facets of the piece was a pleasant surprise, and quite enjoyable. ”

“It was great to have received so many unsolicited comments of praise about the piece,” Lee continued, commenting on the public reception of the showcase.  “This is a very discerning crowd full of experienced professionals. So, it was especially heartening to hear that people liked the performance.”


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