Librettist and poet J.D. McClatchy dies at 72

April 12, 2018

Librettist and poet J. D. McClatchy

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.

J. D. McClatchy speaks to the standing room only audience about his career and the writing of The Leopard. Poets House – November 8, 2014.

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.

Staged Piano Vocal Reading of scenes from The Leopard at Manhattan School of Music. March 13, 2016. Photo by Steven Pisano.

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POET AND LIBRETTIST J. D. MCCLATCHY TO PREVIEW NEW OPERA IN AFTERNOON OF POETRY AND MUSIC

October 23, 2014

Afternoon at NYC’s Poets House to feature libretto reading and music performance from The Leopard, based on famous Italian novel

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NEW YORK, NY – AOP (American Opera Projects) and Poets House present a discussion with award-winning poet and librettist J. D. McClatchy followed by a reading of his latest opera libretto The Leopard, based on the acclaimed novel by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa and directed by James Robinson. The discussion will be joined by The Leopard‘s composer Michael Dellaira and will feature a performance of music from the opera-in-development and a mid-event reception with the artists. The event will take place on Saturday, November 8 at 3 PM at Kray Hall in Poets House (10 River Terrace, New York, NY 10282 in Battery Park City). Tickets are $10, $7 for students and seniors, free to Poets House members and can be purchased at www.poetshouse.org.

Commissioned and in development by AOP, The Leopard is the third opera from librettist J. D. McClatchy and composer Michael Dellaira, following The Secret Agent (2011) and The Death of Webern (2013). In their latest opera, the Prince of Salina, known as The Leopard because of his commanding personality, faces a society in upheaval during Garibaldi’s 1860 invasion of Sicily, and is forced to choose between decay and progress, between the downfall of the nobility and the future of his family. The completed opera will be in two acts.

The Leopard has been commissioned by AOP and is currently in development as part pf the Brooklyn organization’s First Chance program that gives composers and librettists a first chance to hear their work performed before an audience. Development of the opera is made possible, in part, through generous funding by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation and the Paul Underwood Charitable Trust.

Based on the internationally acclaimed 1958 novel Il Gattopardo by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, The Leopard was also adapted into the 1963 film classic by Luchino Visconti starring Burt Lancaster and Claudia Cardinale.

ABOUT THE ARTISTS

J. D. McClatchy is the author of eight books of poems, most recently Plundered Hearts: New and Selected Poems (Knopf). He has written libretti for Francis Thorne’s Mario and the Magician (1994), Tobias Picker’s Emmeline (1996), Lorin Maazel’s 1984 (with Thomas Meehan, 2005), Lowell Liebermann’s Miss Lonelyhearts (2006), Ned Rorem’s Our Town (2006), Elliot Goldenthal’s Grendel (with Julie Taymor, 2006), Bernard Rands’s Vincent (2011), Daron Hagen’s Little Nemo in Slumberland (2012), Martin Bresnick’s My Friend’s Story (2013), and Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne (2013). His work has been performed at the Metropolitan Opera, Covent Garden, La Scala, the Kennedy Center, San Francisco Opera, and other leading opera stages around the world.

James Robinson is regarded as one of America’s most inventive and sought-after stage directors. Artistic Director of Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Robinson has staged productions for major opera companies, including New York City Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Washington National Opera, Welsh National Opera, Canadian Opera Company, San Francisco Opera, and Seattle Opera. Recent projects include the world premiere of Picker’s Dolores Claiborne for San Francisco Opera, the American premiere of Huang Ruo’s Dr. Sun Yat Sen for Santa Fe Opera and the world premiere of Champion.

Michael Dellaira is the composer of three operas. His first, Chéri, on a libretto by Susan Yankowitz, produced by The Actors Studio and directed by Tony-Award winner Carlin Glynn, was a finalist for the 2006 American Academy of Arts and Letters Richard Rodgers Award in Musical Theater. From 2006-2010 he was composer-in-residence with the Center for Contemporary Opera, which co-commissioned The Secret Agent, his first collaboration with J. D. McClatchy. The Death of Webern, also on a libretto by J.D. McClatchy, was commissioned by The Pocket Opera Players and premiered in October 2013.

ABOUT THE PRESENTERS

AOP‘s mission is to identify, develop and present new and innovative works of music theater by emerging and established artists and to engage our audiences in an immersive, transformative theatrical experience. At the forefront of the contemporary opera movement for a quarter-century, AOP creates, develops and presents opera and music theatre projects collaborating with young, rising and established artists in the field. AOP has produced over 30 world premieres, most recently Kaminsky/Reed/Campbell’s As One at BAM (2014), Nkeiru Okoye’s Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom (2014), and Lera Auerbach’s The Blind (2013), a co-production with Lincoln Center Festival. AOP-developed operas that premiered with co-producers include Gregory Spears’s Paul’s Case at PROTOTYPE (2014), Stephen Schwartz’s Séance on a Wet Afternoon at New York City Opera (2011), and Tarik O’Regan’s Heart of Darkness at London’s Royal Opera House (2011). www.operaprojects.org

Poets House is a national 60,000-volume poetry library, literary center for adults and children, and exhibition space that invites poets and the public to step into the living tradition of poetry. Poets House – through its poetry resources, literary events, and archival and poetry-related visual art exhibitions – documents the wealth and diversity of modern poetry and stimulates public dialogue on issues related to poetry in culture. Founded in 1985 by two-time Poet Laureate Stanley Kunitz and legendary arts administrator Elizabeth Kray, the library has created a home for all who read and write poetry. In 2009, Poets House moved into its permanent home, at 10 River Terrace in Battery Park City, on the banks of the Hudson River. For more information about these events and Poets House in general, visit poetshouse.org and join us on Facebook and Twitter.


“Darkling” translated into German

July 9, 2013

Luxbooks, Weisbaden, Germany has released Anna Rabinowitz’s Darkling: A Poem in a German language edition that includes a CD of the AOP opera based on the work.

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From a book-length poem to a multi-media experimental opera to a CD released by Albany RecordsDarkling gives a haunting portrayal of the emotions, terrors, and incalculable losses incurred during the period between the two World Wars and the Holocaust.

Commissioned by American Opera Projects, the stage adaptation of Darkling was set to original music by post-classical composer Stefan Weisman and told through a fusion of avant-garde theater, opera, cutting-edge technology and poignant language. In 2006, American Opera Projects presented the world premiere of Darkling, directed by Michael Comlish, which ran Off-Broadway for three weeks to wide critical acclaim.

Subsequently, Darkling toured in a concert version to Berlin and Poland and to the Center City Opera Theatre as part of the Philly Fringe Festival in 2008. Excerpts have been performed in many venues, including New York City Opera’s VOXseries at NYU’s Skirball Center and the Works and Process Series at the Guggenheim Museum. In 2011, Albany Records released a 2-CD studio recording of the opera.

Anna Rabinowitz’s Darkling: A Poem  was first published in English by Tupelo Press in 2001.

For more information about Darkling, visit the opera’s website.


“Without people like her, we women wouldn’t be doing what we are these days”

June 5, 2013

AOP SPOTLIGHT: JUNE 2013

Composer Sheila Silver

The composer of the Edna St. Vincent Millay songbook “Beauty Intolerable” discusses her musical connection to the legendary iconoclastic poet.

Sheila Silver, composer of Beauty Intolerable

Sheila Silver, composer of Beauty Intolerable

After all this time living in such close proximity to The Mount, what was it that brought you to pick up Millay’s work?

Sheila: It really had nothing to do with being around here. In the early 1980s, I was a young composer living in New York City. During that time, I was one of the panelists for the Millay Colony. Besides the Millay house and grounds there is another whole structure, modern and new. It’s a place where residents can have peace and quiet; an artist’s retreat. Anyway, I reviewed applications for 2 or 3 years. During all that time, the administrators kept saying, “When you’re ready, come up and stay.” But, I never did. It just never quite worked out. Little did I know that 20 years later I’d be buying a house in the area.

Anyway, I am a Professor of Music at SUNY Stony Brook. One semester a few years ago, I was working with a student who had decided to set one of Millay’s poems to music. But she was struggling. She was really too young to handle the power and sophistication of the poem which was one of Millay’s most famous, “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed” and it got me interested in Edna.

I picked up the two best known biographies – Savage Beauty by Nancy Milford, and What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: the Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Daniel Mark Epstein, and by the times I’d finished reading I wanted to write an opera.

During this time, I ran into a friend and colleague, Gwen Gould. She happened to be with Peter Bergman, the newly appointed Executive Director of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society. After being introduced, I mentioned that I’d been thinking of writing an opera about her. Peter invited me to visit him at Steepletop and thus began a series of visits and long conversations about Millay’s life and work.

Then, last February or March (2013) one of my colleagues, Elaine Bonazzi, a famous mezzo soprano, was planning on retiring. I decided to write a few songs in her honor and chose three of Edna’s most happy, light and playful poems to set to music. After the concert, several singers asked me for the music – including Deanne Meek and Risa Renae Harman, two of the three sopranos I ultimately wrote for in the Songbook.

It seems like there is a lot to say about Millay’s life – from her bisexuality to her Pulitzer to her wide-spread popularity due to her tours and broadcasts.  That’s a pretty incredible “back story”. 

Sheila: If I were to write an opera, I would address the back story. For this Songbook, I picked poems primarily about love – found love, lost love, historical love. She even wrote about Tristan and Isolde and Penelope and Odysseus. The Penelope piece is incredible! How can I pass that stuff up for opera singers?

I feel like when I work with her, I’m channeling her. The selections weren’t really premeditated. I read and read and read and then would open the book and see where my eye fell. If I didn’t like what I saw, I’d open the book again.

What worked against your original choice of doing an opera and instead, made the choice of a songbook the right one?

Sheila: I didn’t have an angle on how to present her life in an opera. I thought it was going to be hard to make her look really good. So I started by setting her poems to music to warm up and I was so delighted with the results that I thought I’d just bring her words to the public. I just didn’t need any more.

I’m not sure I’ll ever write an opera about her, but I was so satisfied by the poetry being set to music, I didn’t want to stop. If I had had another 6 months, I probably could have written another ten songs.

After Beauty Intolerable is up and running I’m leaving for India with my family. I’ll be studying Hindustani music under the tutelage of Deepak Raja and master vocalist Narayan Bodas in order to “color” my Western compositional voice. I’m going to write an opera based on Khaled Hosseini’s powerful novel A Thousand Splendid Suns. I’ll be in a completely different place, both physically and creatively.

When I’m done, if Edna is still lingering on the outskirts of my mind, then I’ll re-address the possibility of doing a complete opera.

Why three sopranos instead of one?

Sheila: There was just something about writing for several different kinds of voices. Each singer’s personality is different and I composed different sets for those different qualities –just like there being different kinds of love.  I only have them singing together at the opening and again at the closing.  Edna’s poem, First Fig begins, “My candle burns at both ends…”  I wrote two different rounds for them.  The different music epitomized Edna for me.  She lived hard, but was playful – not always serious.

Millay in Paris

Millay in Paris

I know you toured Steepletop in order to get more of a sense of Millay.  Can you tell me about any of the details that affected your writing?  How did her sense of place influence your songs?

Shelia: I have had several powerful conversations with Peter Bergman where he delved into her life story. He gave me an intimate tour of the house and showed me photos that aren’t on display. I’ve seen her clothes, her private library adjacent to her bedroom and the darkness of her studio with a tiny table and a clock. She wrote there every day for four hours.

I don’t think I could have done this if I didn’t live 10 minutes from there. We’d get together and talk for three hours at a time. Peter’s stories and knowledge helped me go beyond…. He’s a very personable guy and our conversations allowed me to talk through her influences and her life. He was very engaging.

It seems as though much of your composing is influenced by far-off cultures. Yet, here is one that is so American; so “New England”. How does this work relate to your other pieces?

Sheila: Yes, I have composed a lot based in other cultures: Indian, Tibetan and classical Greek and Latin stories. But, I’ve written plenty of American or English based music, too. I have a song cycle called Transcending based on texts of Yates and Thoreau. And, even the more distant cultural works have American strands.

These songs are perhaps my most “American”. They are influenced by Jazz and the fact that I grew up on Simon and Garfunkel, Joan Baez. There’s also even some French cabaret music influence.

I don’t write in a lot of different styles. I don’t like to. But I have listened to a lot of different music and that assimilation makes my mind a giant prism. An idea goes in and when it comes out the other end, it sounds like “Sheila”. No matter the influences, this is my voice. And the older I get, the more my goal is to get simpler, more honest and more straightforward. There is purity in Edna’s poetry that is very appealing.

Honestly, I think Edna is out of vogue at the moment because she is a rhyming poet. It’s time to bring her back. She was one of the original feminists, too. Without people like her, we women wouldn’t be doing what we are these days. She was a visionary.

I can’t remember.  Was Millay a musician herself?  Does she reference any of her favorite works or musicians?  Did her tastes influence you in the way you composed?

Sheila: Edna was an actress and a mezzo-soprano. She performed and wrote her own songs. She was involved in theater groups in Greenwich Village along with her sister and her Mother. She even wrote a libretto for the Metropolitan Opera. . But, I wouldn’t say her tastes in music influenced me.

This project was developed with the support of American Opera Projects, The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society, ClaverackLanding and Symphony Space.  Did you receive feedback from any of these groups?

Sheila: Thankfully, American Opera Projects extended themselves to this song cycle. It falls under “New American Works for Voice.” And Holly Peppe, the literary executor from The Millay Society has been working with me, supplying me with information, for the past year and a half. Gwen Gould was also responsible for keeping the project alive. She’d keep asking me “What’s happening with your songs?” Finally, I had a trip to India planned and she suggested that her organization, ClaverackLanding, present the world premiere before I leave. So, she became the first venue. That’s so fitting because she introduced me to Peter to begin with. Last, but not least, Symphony Space came on board with help from AOP who has been there throughout this journey. I thought the songbook was appropriate for Symphony Space. They are a progressive venue in New York City and, they will present the work immediately following the world premiere. In Hudson.

a conversation with Betsy Miller 05/22/2013

dotcom@telenet.net


Beauty Intolerable will be performed on June 8 at First Presbyterian Church in Hudson, NY and on June 13 at Symphony Space with the composer in attendance. Event info: www.operaprojects.org/events

MORE INFO:
http://www.operaprojects.org/BeautyIntolerable2013
www.sheilasilver.com


Young Poets Inspire Opera, Opera Inspires Young Poets

August 6, 2010

On a hot summer morning, the Brooklyn Library’s Dweck Auditorium is filled with children (along with their parents and a few other adults) craning their necks to watch five of their fellow students, one by one, take the stage and recite poetry. Not just any poetry, but their own. Poetry that talked about loving Brooklyn, about hating Brooklyn, about being shy, about being ambitious, about looking good in a dress, about living large in a mansion. Moments after these five students, ranging in ages from 6 to 13, had finished reading – some shyly, some proudly, all bravely – they took their seats and all watched as  mezzo-soprano Nicole Mitchell and pianist Kelly Horsted walked on the stage. A few seconds later they heard the poetry again, this time expressed in powerful song.

IHAS at the Dweck Auditorium

I Hear America Singing at the Dweck Auditorium, July 19, 2010. (l. to r. The Walt Whitman Project Artistic Director Greg Trupiano, poet Tyler Forsythe, poetry mentor Angeli Rasbury, poet Tristan Regist, composer Gilda Lyons, poet Keanu Stowe, poet Alexis Cummings, AOP General Director Charles Jarden, mother Angeline Keller, poet Samori Covington, pianist Kelly Horsted, singer Nicole Mitchell)

This was I Hear America Singing, the initiative by American Opera Projects and the Walt Whitman Project to transform the words of ordinary Americans into opera, and its first two song cycles composed by Gilda Lyons – “Songs from the F Train,” premiered in June 2009, and “Songs from the A Train,” premiered on this summer morning July 19, 2010 at the Dweck Auditorium, with all but one of the six young poets in attendance.

Among the enraptured faces was Mr. Jim Vogel, Spokesperson for State Senator Velmanette Montgomery whose district covers a huge swath of Brooklyn from Ocean Hill to Fort Greene and down to Sunset Park.  Mr. Vogel was proud to tell everyone that these young poets were to going to be recognized by the NY State Legislature for their hard work and inspirational voices. The students smiled to learn how far their voices had traveled and how many people had been listening. (And to learn how politics work. They would have been officially presented with this recognition that morning in the form of a framed Proclamation… but Albany first had to complete their months-delayed budget.)

Later, their writing mentor Angeli Rasbury asked the students to express themselves yet again, but this time with a focus on what they felt when they heard Ms. Mitchell, a Brooklyn native herself, sing.

When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I hear a talented opera voice in my ears.
I feel very happy to hear her beautiful voice singing, letting all her emotions out.
I hear and see the birds flying high.
I hear the crickets singing and the butterfly flying joyfully through the sky.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell I look back in the days when black people were slaves singing and working hard to get their freedom.
I imagine Nicole back there in time singing to her freedom, singing when will she be free.
When I hear that song it makes me feel proud of black people, of how far we have come,  to this stage right now. When I hear people like Nicole Mitchell, my day keeps getting better and better.
–  Rood Dorestil, 13 years old

When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel happy and think I’m in heaven.
I hear trees whistling in the breeze.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell, I can imagine different colored flowers moving slowly from side to side.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I am joyful.
I feel like a red leaf.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel like I am in beautiful, lush Barbados.
I feel Nicole Mitchell is a beautiful singer.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, she sounds excited to be alive.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel free.
When I hear Nicole Mitchell sing, I feel like a pretty slave who has been freed.
–    Aliah Gilkes, 10 years old

master tell me i’m his slave
no i say i’m a flow of music
i’m not a slave
don’t believe such foolishness of your white community
i hear the the voices of opera
and feel the beat of opera
i hear the piano of the flat boards
that used to be teeth
the loud voices saying
you go girl
that my people is pure music!
–  Eva Taylor, 9 years old

This is only the beginning of I Hear America Singing. In the 2010-11 season AOP will branch out with new performances and new songs. There are many voices yet to be heard. Visit www.operaprojects.org throughout the year to discover when and where to hear them.


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