Commissioning new operas has become a major, and very welcome, trend, and the Fort Worth Opera is one of the organizations on the forefront of this charge. Last year, General Director Darren K. Woods announced that the 2013 FWO Festival would feature a "Frontiers" festival, showcasing snippets of works by eight new operas. Meanwhile, the new operas With Blood, With Ink and A Wrinkle in Time were also commissioned by the FWO for 2014.
Now, the group announces a 10-year committment to new work by composers from North and South America, in an initiative called "Opera of the Americas," beginning with 2014. The first three years of work have been announced, leading up to its 70th anniversary in 2016 with a new opera about John K. Kennedy. There are some changes in the previously announced premieres, and each year from 2014 to 2016 will feature world premieres, with some regional premieres in the mix, too. Look for the announcements of works in 2017 and beyond to keep coming.
Here are the basics:
With Blood, With Ink, by composer Daniel Crozier and librettist Peter M. Krask, about the 17th century Mexican nun Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz, will still debut in the 2014 Fort Worth Opera Festival (the festival, from 2013 on out, has been moved up a month, beginning in April). Also notable about this production is that the costumes will be designed by season one Project Runway finalist Austin Scarlett.
Also in 2014, the Fort Worth Opera will give the regional premiere of Kevin Puts' 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night, a co-production with the Minnesota Opera and the Opera Company of Philadelphia. This work is based on the 2005 French film Joyeux Noel, about the World War I Christmas Eve cease fire between French, German and Scottish forces. This show will go into the slot previously announced for A Wrinkle in Time. (A clip from the premiere of Silent Night is below.)
This means that the world premiere of A Wrinkle in Time, based on the popular 1962 young adult novel by Madeleine L'Engle, will move to the 2015 season. The opera will have music by Libby Larson and a libretto by Bradley Greenwald.
Also in 2015, there will be the regional premiere of Dog Days, by composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek. Based on the short story of the same name by Judy Budnitz, the opera is set in an apocalyptic wartime world and is told from the perspective of a 13-year-old girl who befriends a dog. It premiered in 2012 by Peak Performances in New Jersey. (See a video about this at the bottom of the story.)
In 2016, there will be another world premiere, this one based on John F. Kennedy's final day, which began in Fort Worth, with a current working title of JFK. It is also by the team of Little/Vavrek.
This is all very exciting news for North Texas and new opera, especially considering that The Dallas Opera is gearing up for new work, too, with the area premiere of Death and the Powers and world premiere of Everest in 2014, and world premiere of Great Scott in 2015.
Here's the official press release from the Fort Worth Opera, with more detail about its plans:
Fort Worth Opera announced today Opera of the Americas, a ten-year artistic commitment to the production of work from contemporary composers of the Americas, beginning in 2014. The first phase of Opera of the Americas will feature three world premieres and one national co-production, leading up to the company's 70th anniversary in 2016. These productions reinforce FWOpera's dedication to introducing new works and championing North and South American contemporary composers, as well as underscoring its vision of the art form.
"Fort Worth Opera strongly believes that the modern operatic experience is one that has both a subjective and objective component, whether it be a contemporary or traditional work," stated FWOpera General Director Darren K. Woods. "It's more than just entertainment; it's a shared experience that engages, provokes, and inspires conversation. In presenting compelling contemporary works by accomplished American composers, and fresh productions of traditional operatic repertoire, we look to re-define opera as an exciting experience that, at its core, has a unique, personal connection for our audiences. We look carefully at the heart of each work, for a storyline or a message that will resonate on an intimate, individual level, evoking an emotional response and need for reflection. I am thrilled to announce that in addition to the world premieres by Libby Larsen and Daniel Crozier in the next upcoming seasons, Fort Worth Opera will present a regional premiere and a world premiere company commission by composer David T. Little, and the regional premiere of composer Kevin Puts' first opera."
Inspirational characters who challenge the status quo, risking everything for what they believe in, and story lines that motivate conversation are the connecting thread in the upcoming productions, which have story arcs ranging from issues related to family life and modern day warfare, to science fiction and iconic historical figures.
In 2014, FWOpera proudly presents the first in the series of world premieres with the first professional production of the award-winning opera With Blood, With Ink, by composer Daniel Crozier and librettist Peter M. Krask. Announced this past summer, the opera is based on the true story of 17th-century Mexican nun Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz, a renowned intellectual, poet, theologian, and champion of women's rights who was forced by the Inquisition to sign an oath in blood renouncing her life's work. With Blood, With Ink will feature costume designs by American celebrity fashion designer Austin Scarlett, acclaimed for his collaborations with artists such as Shein Wei and Parson's Dance Company, who is also known for his appearances on the fashion design competition reality TV show Project Runway, and sets by renowned set designer Erhard Rom. "This piece moved me deeply upon hearing it and I immediately wanted to produce it. The story of Sor Juana is a well-known one among our large Hispanic population and it seemed perfect for our community," said Mr. Woods when asked why he selected this piece. "It is an excellent example of the versatility of contemporary opera. Its music is soaring and beautiful and still delivers the same dramatic punch as the atonal music typically associated with these new works."
Presented alongside With Blood, With Ink will be the regional premiere of composer Kevin Puts' 2012 Pulitzer-Prize winning opera, Silent Night, in co-production with Minnesota Opera and the Opera Company of Philadelphia. The piece is based on the 2005 French film Joyeux Noel, about the legendary World War I 1914 Christmas Eve cease-fire/truce between French, German and Scottish forces. The opera appropriately follows the upcoming 2013 Festival production of Tom Cipullo's Glory Denied, the tragic, true story of America's longest-held Vietnam prisoner of war based on the bestselling book by journalist Tom Philpott.
In announcing Silent Night, Mr. Woods stated, "Silent Night, composer Kevin Puts' and librettist Mark Campbell's powerful opera, is another example of the work Fort Worth Opera is passionate about—a thought-provoking, question-raising piece that introduces accessible, human characters. When the opportunity to produce this work was recently presented to us, we were happy to jump on board. Libby Larson was amenable to moving her work to the 2015 season, allowing her the luxury of additional time to add final touches to her new opera—something of a rarity for composers."
Silent Night will be presented in the 2014 Festival slot announced last spring for the world premiere of A Wrinkle in Time by composer Libby Larsen and librettist Bradley Greenwald. A Wrinkle in Time, a full-length mainstage opera based on the enormously popular 1962 Madeleine L'Engle landmark, award-winning novel of the same name, will receive its premiere in the 2015 season. The story is about a teenage girl, her younger brother, and their search for their father, a government scientist who went missing while working on a top-secret project. The work illuminates the eternal battle of good vs. evil and the struggle of conformity vs. non-conformity. A Wrinkle in Time has loose roots in Larsen's original one-act children's opera commissioned by Opera Delaware in 1991 for elementary school groups.
As testimony to Fort Worth Opera's ten-year artistic commitment to the support of American composers and librettists, the company has committed to bringing not one, but two works by one of opera's most talked about creative pairs—composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek. Dog Days, in co-presentation with Beth Morrison Projects, will make its regional premiere within the first three years of Opera of the Americas. Dog Days is the heart wrenching tale of an apocalyptic wartime world and a family facing starvation trapped inside this new reality. The opera is based on a short story of the same name by Judy Budnitz. Dog Days is told from the perspective of the opera's central character 13-year old Lisa.
Since its premiere in New Jersey with Peak Performances and Beth Morrison Projects in September 2012, the opera has received much attention for the way its "taut libretto and varied, original music deliver its grim story like a punch to the stomach" (Wall Street Journal), with The New York Times describing it as a "nuanced work that clawed beneath the surface of every situation."
Woods stated "Composer David T. Little, with his background as a rock drummer and penchant for highly theatrical works, is a composer who thinks outside the box. Dog Days is powerful and beautifully devastating. It is a work that has stayed with me musically, dramatically, and aesthetically since the minute I saw it. David T. Little and Royce Vavrek have created a story that captivates and consumes you from its earliest moments—it forces you to ponder ideas such as choice and consequence and even aspects of your own humanity in a striking and profoundly raw way. Like any piece of great art, it inspires an honest and emotional dialogue—something Fort Worth Opera strives to achieve with each production."
The first phase of Fort Worth Opera's 10-year plan culminates during the company's 70th anniversary in 2016 with the world premiere of FWOpera's second commissioned opera and the second work FWOpera will produce by composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek, JFK (working title).
"We are excited to have commissioned David and Royce to create the final work in our three-years of world premieres, and for our 70th anniversary season. Reflecting a significant moment in American history, JFK will tell the story of the lives and relationships of those connected to the 35th President of the United States with a focus on their moments in Fort Worth the morning before his fateful trip to Dallas. This is not only a part of our country's history, but our local history; and it had not only a global and national impact, but is extremely significant to our community as well. William V. Madison, the classical music journalist whose professional career included working as assistant to esteemed CBS broadcast journalist Dan Rather, is also a crucial member of the team, having spent hours researching and interviewing living witnesses from Fort Worth, including the cameraman from that tragic day. He has been instrumental in providing details to David and Royce and laying the groundwork for this historic piece."
◊ The upcoming 2013 Fort Worth Opera Festival features the regional premiere of Glory Denied, in the "Opera Unbound" series, plus Puccini's La bohéme, Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment and Strauss' Ariadne auf Naxos. That's in addition to the aforementioned Frontiers event, which will reportedly happen each year beginning with 2013.
◊ Here is a clip from the Minnesota Opera's world premiere of Silent Night:
◊ And here's a video about the premiere of Dog Days: