Fort Worth — The folks at the Fort Worth Opera have selected eight works to be represented in the second Frontiers in their 2014 festival season. The event showcases up to 20 minutes of excerpts from new operas in development. The first Frontiers was quite the success, and you can tell by the caliber of composers and librettists in the submissions for the second one that word is out there about this initiative. Here is our take on the first year of Frontiers.
The second Frontiers will features works with a wide range range of subject matters, from sexual boundaries to gender identity to war and crime. One work will be of particular interest to theater audiences: an adaptation of Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Herschel Garfein, whose opera adaptation of Elmer Gantry won him a Grammy in 2012 (Elmer Gantry will be produced by the Tulsa Opera in 2014).
Here's the news release, followed by the desciptions of the works and bios of the composers and librettists:
Fort Worth Opera (FWOpera) revealed today the names of the eight composer and librettist teams from the Americas whose works have been selected for participation in the second season of the company’s critically-acclaimed, annual new works program, Frontiers, taking place May 8 – 9, 2014, during the last week of the 2014 Opera Festival. These eight selected works will be presented in the intimate theater-in-the round style setting of the McDavid Studio across from Bass Hall in downtown Fort Worth. The 20-minute excerpts, sung by artists from the 2014 Fort Worth Opera Festival with piano accompaniment, will be offered in two separate showcases of four works each on Thursday, May 8, 2014 at 6:00 – 8:00 pm, and Friday, May 9, 2014 at 3:00 – 5:00 pm.
Building on the success and popularity of the last year’s inaugural season, Frontiers has been expanded with the goal of seeking out works for future production in FWOpera's alternative venue series Opera Unbound. The program includes a distinguished panel of collaborative partners who will play a critical role in the long-term development of the Frontiers works beyond the Festival showcase. (Panel members listed below).
In announcing the selected works, Fort Worth Opera General Director Darren K. Woods, chair of the Frontiers panel, stated, “Frontiers has evolved in just one year to more of a developmental program than last season. Of the eight selections, there are some which are completed and ready to find a home with an opera company, while others are just at the beginning of the compositional process. By expanding the program and collaborating with people who specialize in the development of new pieces, we are able to move these works along a dedicated road to, hopefully, a full production somewhere.”
FWOpera Producing Director and Frontiers Curator Kurt Howard, commented on the newly expanded program, saying, “Our 2013 Showcase taught us all a lot about the lack of community among America's upcoming composers and librettists, and we have increased our efforts to help that community connect to each other and to our audiences. The works that are being presented in 2014 are a broader range of works in progress, from composers looking for guidance in the craft to teams that are ready to have their works presented to the public. We have also brought more of our colleagues within the industry to join us in the process and further open doors for these creative teams.”
Synopses of each opera (in alphabetical order by composers’ last names), and brief biographies of the composers and librettists follow below.
Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, by composer and librettist Herschel Garfein, based on the famous 1966 comedy by Tom Stoppard, retells the story of Hamlet from the point-of-view of the play’s two minor characters, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.
International musician Anthony Green’s Alex in Transition is about the life of a transgender woman and her story as it unfolds through the processes of denial, discovery, acceptance, surgery, transitioning, and post-op life.
Composer Robert Paterson and librettist David Cote have written Safe Word — one act of a three act opera exploring sexual boundaries — about a female dominatrix with a new client. The client has an odd request, and the session intensifies after her refusal to fulfill the fantasy. A last-minute twist leads to an interesting revelation.
The “ballad opera” Voir Dire, co-written by Matthew Peterson and Jason Zencka, was adapted from real-life trials witnessed by Zencka during his time as a crime-reporter. This opera follows the trial of a 16-year-old boy who beat his mother to near death before setting her on fire. Ultimately about love-gone-wrong, Voir Dire explores the universal and existential themes of death and justice.
Ronnie Reshef’s heartwrenching opera, Something to Live For, takes place during various periods of time in World War II, and follows the journey of a mother struggling to be reunited with her eight-year-old son while surviving the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
A tale of two lovers attempting to escape the racial persecution plaguing Sarajevo during the Bosnian War and their tragic end is the focus of Precari by composer Brent Straughan.
Composer David Vayo and librettist Nancy Steele Brokaw present their opera, Fertile Ground, a story of the land and the Midwestern people who farm it.
In a Mirror, Darkly, by composer Christopher Weiss and librettist S. O’Duinn Magee, is a structurally unique three-act opera in which each act comments and builds upon the others. Ultimately, the audience is transported to the realization that the three seemingly unrelated narratives are indeed one story about women struggling to escape the societal chains that bind them.
Frontiers composers will be in residence at the Festival from May 8 – 9, 2014. Post-performance discussions and open rehearsals will be part of the showcase.
COMPOSER AND LIBRETTIST BIOGRAPHIES
Herschel Garfein, composer and librettist: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
Herschel Garfein is a GRAMMY® award-winning writer, composer, and stage director. He conceived, wrote, and directed the theater piece My Coma Dreams, a collaboration with jazz composer-pianist Fred Hersch. My Coma Dreams premiered at Peak Performances at Montclair, and has been in Berlin, San Francisco, and New York City. It has been embraced by the medical community for its reflections on the patient’s experience of contemporary medical practice; in Berlin it was produced by the European Society for Intensive Care Medicine, its 2013 NYC premiere was produced by The Program in Narrative Medicine at Columbia University Medical School. Garfein was awarded the 2012 GRAMMY® award for Best Contemporary Classical Composition for what BBC Music Magazine called his “wildly operatic libretto” to Robert Aldridge’s Elmer Gantry in a performance by Florentine Opera (Milwaukee). Released on Naxos, the album won a second GRAMMY ® for Best Engineered Classical Recording. He is currently at work on the libretto for Sister Carrie, commissioned by Florentine Opera for its 2015 season. Garfein received his training at Yale University (cum lade) and The New England Conservatory of Music. He has won awards and fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Artists Foundation, The National Institute for Opera/Music Theater, and the MacDowell Colony. He lectures in script analysis and teaches composition at The Steinhardt School, New York University, where in the 2012-2013 academic year, he was awarded The Excellence in Teaching Award.
Anthony Green, composer and librettist: Alex in Transition
Internationally recognized musician Anthony Green approaches all of his music activities from a historically all-encompassing perspective, and strives to integrate the musical contributions of the past within an interpretation or composition of the present. He has performed as a pianist and vocal improviser at the Cantor Arts Center in California, Jordan Hall and Symphony Hall in Boston, and other venues across the United States, the Netherlands, and Korea. He has received grants for composing, lecturing, and giving master classes from the Mu Phi Epsilon Foundation, the Argosy Foundation, and Meet the Composer. He was also a resident artist at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. As an electronic composer, he has had works diffused in festivals and concerts in the Unites States, Spain, and Venezuela, most notably serving as an interpreter of Mark Applebaum’s The Metaphysics of Notation, which he realized with fixed media audio and vocal improvisation. Part of his performance is recorded on Innova records. Green received his Bachelors degree in music composition and theory from Boston University, and his Masters degree from The New England Conservatory of Music.
Robert Peterson, composer: Safe Word
Composer Robert Paterson continues to gain attention at home and abroad for “vibrantly scored and well-crafted” music that “often seems to shimmer” (NewMusicBox). His works are praised for their elegance, structural integrity, and wonderful sense of color. Paterson’s Book of Goddesses for flute, harp, and percussion was named one of the Top 10 favorite pieces of the year by Classical New England, Boston for NPR's Best Music of 2012. Paterson was named Composer of the Year at Carnegie Hall by the Classical Recording Foundation in 2011, and was the winner of the 2010 Cincinnati Camerata Composition Competition for his setting of Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep (text by Mary Frye). Awards and accolades include a Copland Award and two ASCAP Young Composer Awards, a three-year Music Alive! grant from the League of American Orchestras and New Music USA, the American Composers Forum, and ASCAP. Paterson founded the American Modern Ensemble (AME), which spotlights American music via lively thematic programming. He serves as artistic director for AME as well as house composer, frequently contributing new pieces to the ensemble, and he directs the affiliated record label, American Modern Recordings (AMR), which will be distributed by Naxos in 2014. He holds degrees from the Eastman School of Music (BM), Indiana University (MM), and Cornell University (DMA). Paterson resides in New York City with his wife, Victoria, and son, Dylan, and summers at the Rocky Ridge Music Center in Colorado where he is composer-in- residence. He is currently writing two opera works with librettist David Cote via an American Opera Projects fellowship with Composers & The Voice.
David Cote, librettist
David Cote is a librettist and playwright whose plays include Otherland and the “final” scene of George Bernard Shaw's last, unfinished work, Why She Would Not, commissioned by Gingold Theatrical Group. His opera libretti include Fade, with composer Stefan Weisman, and The Scarlet Ibis, also with Weisman. The Scarlet Ibis is being developed in the HERE Artist Residency Program for a world premiere in the new-opera festival Prototype in 2015. Fade had its world premiere in October 2008 in London and subsequent concert performances in San Francisco and New York City. With composer Robert Paterson, Cote is writing a trio of one-act operas about sex and power called Three-Way. The first act, Safe Word, was developed in American Opera Projects’ Composers & the Voice program in 2012. Other operas with Paterson include the work-in-progress grand opera, Invisible Child. Cote wrote the text for Paterson's choral piece Did You Hear? commissioned by the Vermont Youth Orchestra Association. As a director, Cote staged the millennial multimedia piece GreenlandY2K at HERE and Iranian exile auteur Assurbanipal Babilla’s monologue Something Something Über Alles at the Kraine Theater. An actor in the 1990s, he performed with Babilla’s Purgatorio Ink Theater and in Richard Foreman’s Pearls for Pigs, Robert Cucuzza’s Speed Freaks and Richard Maxwell’s Cowboys & Indians. Since 2003, Cote has been theater editor and chief drama critic of Time Out New York. He is a member of the New York Drama Critics Circle and a contributing critic on NY1’s On Stage. He teaches arts criticism at Brooklyn College. His writing has appeared inThe New York Times, The Guardian and Opera News.
Matthew Peterson, composer: Voir Dire
Matthew Peterson writes music that explores frontiers of sound and expression. A composer of “considerable imagination and individuality” (Houston Chronicle), his music is “fresh and passionate…beautiful, challenging” (BBC Berkshire). It is also diverse, ranging from songs of criminals and outcasts, to modern settings of sacred texts, to stunning orchestral soundscapes. Matthew has received commissions from musicians and ensembles in the United States, England, and Sweden, and fifty of his works have been performed across North America and Europe. His broad output includes two chamber operas, seven orchestral scores, an oratorio, numerous choral works, pieces for soloists, chamber ensembles, and electronic media, and post-rock songs for his band in Sweden. He has received a Fulbright Grant, and prestigious awards from BMI, ASCAP, Manhattan Beach Music, Third Angle ensemble, New Lens concert series, Opera Vista, Indiana University, the Boston Choral Ensemble, the National Opera Association, Vocal Essence, ensemble Chanticleer, and others. The Minnesota Orchestra will perform Hyperborea for orchestra in January 2014. Matthew’s music has been broadcast on classical music stations across the United States, and his Dawn: Redeeming, Radiant was recently featured on American Public Media’s Performance Today. Matthew lives in Stockholm, Sweden. He studied composition at the Gotland tonsättarskola (Visby, Sweden), Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and St. Olaf College. He has previously served on the faculty of the Gotland School of Music Composition (Visby, Sweden) and as an Associate Instructor at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.
Jason Zencka, librettist
Jason Zencka has worked as a newspaper reporter in Wisconsin and criminal defense investigator in Washington, D.C. He is currently pursuing his MFA in fiction at the University of Minnesota. He is a 2006 graduate of St. Olaf College. Jason and composer Matthew Peterson have collaborated on two award-winning chamber operas. Their first opera, The Binding of Isaac, premiered in 2006 at St. Olaf College and won both the BMI student composer award and runner-up in the 2006 National Opera Association chamber opera competition. Their most recent collaboration, Voir Dire, is based on and adapted from Jason’s experience as a crime reporter in Wisconsin. It won the 2011 Vista Opera Award (Houston, TX).
Ronnie Reshef, composer: Something to Live For
Ronnie Reshef’s music has been described by the press as “Vivid, elegant…smart, and gorgeous” (Houston Chronicle). Reshef’s work spans from classical music to Off-Broadway musicals, concentrating on works for the theater. Her first opera Requiem for the Living was performed in New York City, Kentucky, and Texas, where it was a finalist in 2011 Opera Vista competition. Her musicalConspiracy! had an Off-Broadway run at MITF, where it was nominated for best music and lyrics, among four other nominations. Theater and film collaborations include the Living Theatre and the Juilliard Theatre Department, and awards from the Berlin International Film Festival and the Parnu Film Festival (Grand Prize). Next season includes a commission from the Qube string quartet and a full production premiere of Reshef’s new opera Something to Live For at the Boston Metro Opera.
Brent Straughan, composer: Precari
Brent Straughan was born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He studied piano with Rosetta McGuire, Virgie MacDonald, violin with Patricia Gradman and Edgar Willliams, and composition with Ken Benshoof. His works for orchestra, choir and chamber music have been performed in North America and Europe, and on television and radio.
David Vayo, composer: Fertile Ground
David Vayo is the Fern Rosetta Sherff Professor of Composition and Theory and head of the composition department at Illinois Wesleyan University, where he teaches composition, improvisation and contemporary music and serves as Coordinator of New Music Activities. Vayo has also taught at Connecticut College and the National University of Costa Rica. He holds an A.Mus.D. in Composition from The University of Michigan, where his principal teachers were Leslie Bassett and William Bolcom; his M. Mus. and B. Mus. degrees are from Indiana University, where he studied with Frederick Fox and Juan Orrego-Salas. Vayo has received awards and commissions from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, ASCAP, the Koussevitzky Music Foundation, the Barlow Endowment for Music Composition, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Music Center, the National Association of College Wind and Percussion Instructors, and the Illinois Council for the Arts, and has been granted numerous artists’ colony residencies. Over four hundred performances and broadcasts of his compositions have taken place, including recent performances in Mexico, Thailand, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, and Spain and at Harvard University, Ohio State University and the universities of Wisconsin and Iowa. Festivals which have programmed his work include the International Trombone Festival, the International Double Reed Festival, the Grand Teton Music Festival, and three World Music Days of the International Society for Contemporary Music. His compositions are published by Honeyrock, Bèrben/Italia Guitar Society Series, and the International Trombone Association Press. Vayo is also active as a keyboardist performing contemporary music, jazz, and free improvisations.
Nancy Steele Brokaw, librettist
Nancy Steele Brokaw is an established playwright working out of Bloomington, Illinois. She wrote the libretto for Fertile Ground, collaborating with David Vayo, for an opera commissioned by Prairie Fire Theatre. Brokaw had previously written a yearlong weekly series published in The Pantagraph on small Central Illinois towns. Brokaw has written books for other Prairie Fire Theatre shows, including three children’s operas, Ugh the Duck, The Big Race! and The Sky Is Falling And I’m Not Even Kidding! For over a decade, Brokaw has been resident playwright for Holiday Spectacular, Inc., writing two or more musical shows a year. The McLean County Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission hired Brokaw to co-author a retelling of Lincoln’s time in Bloomington. Brokaw is a longtime contributor to The Pantagraph and Illinois Wesleyan Magazine, as well as the author of the award-winning middle-grade novel Leaving Emma, (Clarion/Houghton Mifflin). Brokaw has served as dramaturge for the Illinois Wesleyan opera program for the past five years. She has written several shows for that program including, in Fall 2012, two adaptations of the dialogue for the Magic Flute, one for a full production and one shortened version for school children. Brokaw’s Down Home Divas sold out on the campus of Illinois State University in February 2013. Currently, Brokaw is in production for two shows: Double Trouble and The Ballad of Macbeth and other Campfire Tales. They will be presented throughout the season of the Illinois Shakespeare Festival in summer, 2013. Brokaw lives in Bloomington, Illinois, where she’s an active community volunteer.
Christopher Weiss, composer: In a Mirror, Darkly
Christopher Weiss’ music has been hailed by the New York Times as “wonderfully fluid [with a] cinematic grasp of mood and lighting.” He has received commissions and performances from the Huntsville Symphony, Jacksonville Symphony, the Boston Chamber Orchestra, the Lancaster Symphony, the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic, the Columbia Orchestra, and the Curtis Symphony Orchestra. He has been Composer-in-Residence at Twickenham Fest and Young Composer-in-Residence at Music from Angel Fire. Christopher’s opera In a Mirror, Darkly (written with librettist S. O’Duinn Magee) was awarded a Domenic J. Pellicciotti Prize. Excerpts have been performed at New York City Opera’s VOX showcase and at the John Duffy Composer Institute as part of the Virginia Arts Festival. Christopher has been in residence at Yaddo, the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. He was a recipient of a Theodore Presser Foundation Career Grant, and was the youngest competitor ever to win the Jacksonville Symphony’s Fresh Ink competition. His music has been played on many local radio stations and was featured on American Public Media’s Performance Today. He holds degrees from Rollins College and the Curtis Institute of Music.
S. O’Duinn Magee, librettist
S. O’Duinn Magee fell in love with opera as a teenager when she accompanied a local singer – a contralto – in a series of concerts at the bandshell in Daytona Beach, Florida. Throughout a thirty-year career as a literary critic and teacher, Magee’s passion for opera never diminished. As an academic, Magee was known as “Margaret M. ‘Maggie’ Dunn.” Under that name she presented papers at academic conferences both here and abroad, and she co-authored one book of original scholarship – The Composite Novel (1995). Her work on the composite novel and on composite film is cited in numerous articles and anthologies. Thus it is no accident that In a Mirror, Darkly is the first-ever composite opera, echoing neither Puccini’s Il trittico (three unrelated one-acts) nor Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann (one integrated frame-tale). Rather, Magee and composer Christopher Weiss were inspired by Michael Cunningham’s composite novel Specimen Days to structure their opera as three discrete one-acts that develop a single narrative arc. Three stories, in other words, that become one story. Upon retiring from academics, Magee chose the professional pen name “S. O’Duinn Magee” by which she as a writer would thereafter be known. She remains an amateur musician (a pianist). Her ability to read a musical score, combined with a lifelong love of poetry and the dramatic arts, convinced her to try her hand as a librettist. It has been a dream come true.
The Frontiers Panel comprises FWOpera’s Darren K. Woods, Kurt Howard, Joe Illick (Music Director), and Keith Wolfe (Managing Director), as well as Beth Morrison (Beth Morrison Projects), Charles Jarden (American Opera Projects), Ben Krywosz (Nautilus Music Theater), Kim Whitener (HERE), William Florescu (Florentine Opera), John Hoomes (Nashville Opera), Robert Wood (UrbanArias) and Lawrence Edelson (American Lyric Theater).