Development Series

The Center for Contemporary Opera continues its popular Development Series with three exciting works in progress:

Hester 

by Richard Alan White
October 12, 2017 8pm (Sold Out)
October 15, 2017 8pm

National Opera Center Recital Hall

In 1992, writer Alfred Kazin began an article in The New York Review of Books with what today would seem a startling question: “Why is there no opera of The Scarlet Letter?” He must not have known Richard Alan White. Mr. White began conceptualizing his opera, “Hester,” named after the protagonist of Hawthorne’s classic American novel, in the 1970’s. At the time Mr. White began putting pencil to music paper, two major operas had in fact been inspired by The Scarlet Letter: Damrosch’s 1895 opera and Giannini’s in 1938, though neither became household names. To date, Mr. White’s approach to composing this classic is unique. With a focus on Hester Prynne, Mr. White brings a truth to the story’s emotional depth.  “I’ve worked in prisons. I was a NYC caseworker for the Dept. of Social Services and have worked with countless single mothers. I’ve known people who have been killed,” he said. Hester is not a fantastical melodrama. It is about real life and is more relevant today than ever before.”

Richard Alan White, 82, is an emerging composer based in Brooklyn, New York. He has a Master of Arts, Music Composition, from Columbia University, (1957). Both the librettist and the composer of Hester, he is also a trained actor and singer with a long list of acting and singing credits. He studied composition with Robert Starrer, Hall Overton, Jack Beeson, Otto Leuning, and acting with Uta Haagen, Alice Spivak, and Stephen Strimpell. He attended lectures in Darmstadt, Germany with Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Olivier Messiaen. This is his first professional performance of any of his works. From New England, he has family roots in Salem, Mass., which is the location of the Custom House in Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.

Swan’s Inlet

by Mark Taggart
Libretto by Ann McCutchan
March 10, 2018, 8pm — Tickets
National Opera Center Recital Hall

Set on the south Atlantic coast in the mid-1980s Swan’s Inlet opens with Eva, an aspiring singer, accompanying her father, Thomas, a war veteran with PTSD, to Mayor Beauregard’s reelection speech. Beauregard, a buffoon, promises the townspeople a statue of a mullet honoring the local fishing industry. The crowd applauds. Eva wants to leave town to study music, but feels bound by her father’s disability. Her friend Kendra introduces her to Marco, an artist who urges Eva to find a way to sing. Eva forms a chorus. She asks the mayor and his wife, Laverne, for rehearsal space, and when they refuse it, Marco offers Eva his barn. He is attracted to her, but fears he would hold her back. Eva performs with her chorus and her father sings. The townspeople are awestruck; the music has healed Thomas. The Beauregards invite the chorus to sing for the mullet unveiling. When a concrete fish is revealed, everyone is horrified. Marco donates a beautiful sculpture in its place and dedicates it to Eva. Eva, seeing her father restored, knows she can depart for the city.

Mark Alan Taggart is a composer, avid runner, and Professor of Music Composition at East Carolina University. He has also served ECU as Chair of the Faculty. He writes for opera, symphony orchestra, wind ensemble, chorus, and solo and chamber ensembles. His music has been performed throughout the United States, Europe, Australia, China and Japan. A review of his Symphony of Spirituals describes his music as “sublime…it left the listener wanting for more.” He lives in Greenville, North Carolina, with his wife, LeeAnn, and son, Karl.

Ann McCutchan’s writing springs from deep interests in music, art, nature, and creativity, and the ways they shape individuals, places, and history.  Her five books include a biography of French flute virtuoso Marcel Moyse and a collection of interviews with composers about the creative process — both important contributions to the literature of music and creativity. Others include Circular Breathing: Meditations From a Musical LifeRiver Music: An Atchafalaya Story, and Where’s the Moon? a Memoir of the Space Coast and the Florida Dream. She is currently writing a biography of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, author of The Yearling, for W.W. Norton. Formerly a professional clarinetist and contemporary music advocate, Ann is the author of seven previous musical texts and libretti.

CAST AND CREATIVE TEAM

Conductor Chris Buddo
Director Nina Brazier
Pianist/Coach Laetitia Ruccollo
Eva Kristina Bachrach
Kendra Glacéia Henderson
Thomas David Charles Tay
Marco Aaron Theno
LaVerne Elise Caluwaerts
Chester David Neal

Sorrows of Frederick

by Scott Wheeler
May 18, 8pm
Irondale Theater

TICKETS

The Sorrows of Frederick uses modern language to create a darkly comic opera (in the sense that Don Giovanni is a “comic drama” dealing with evil and death) based on the life of King Frederick the Great of Prussia.

In Act 1, the young prince Frederick composes music, plays the flute, writes poetry, and corresponds with the great writer Voltaire, who sees in Frederick “the philosopher prince of whom Plato dreamed.” Frederick also falls in love with Lieutenant Hans Katte. Frederick’s father, King Frederick William, arranges Frederick’s marriage to the proper young Elizabeth Christine, in whom Frederick has no interest. In front of the entire court, Frederick William taunts his artistic son as a “French fop.” Frederick attempts to flee with Katte, but they are discovered, and the King forces Frederick to watch as Katte is beheaded.

In Act 2, Frederick William has died and Frederick has become the King. To the surprise of the Prussian Councillors, who expect an “artistic” and weak king, Frederick introduces freedom of the press, freedom of religion, builds opera houses, and otherwise tries to live up to the Enlightenment ideals of his idol Voltaire, whom he brings to live with him in his palace Sans Souci. Even more surprisingly, Frederick builds a stronger army than that of his father, and begins a series of aggressive and successful military campaigns. Voltaire cannot condone Frederick’s thirst for war; Frederick responds by calling Voltaire a “French fop,” causing a break with his intellectual and spiritual father. Frederick continues to make ever more destructive wars, but his artistic and human side is neglected, and he dies alone, with only his beloved dogs for solace, while the country hails him as “the greatest king in the history of Prussia.”

The music of The Sorrows of Frederick draws freely on the music of Frederick himself, including the theme he gave to J.S. Bach, which is the basis of Bach’s Musical Offering.

The piano vocal score of The Sorrows of Frederick was commissioned and workshopped by the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theatre. Excerpts were presented in workshop at the 2015 Frontiers Festival at Fort Worth Opera.

Scott Wheeler’s four operas have been commissioned and performed by the Metropolitan Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Washington National Opera and the Guggenheim Foundation. His music can be heard on Naxos, BMOP Sound, and Newport Classic. He has received awards from the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, MacDowell Colony, Yaddo, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Bogliasco Foundation, and the Classical Recording Foundation. Mr. Wheeler teaches musical theatre at Emerson College in Boston.