And, two years later, here we are. Becoming Santa Claus opens here at Dallas Opera December 4th; details here.
I was just invited to do two evenings to present my work and talk about it. One was for my good friends at Opera America, for their Creators in Concert series: the musicians (noted below) were every bit as wonderful as I’d hoped and, in fact, you can stream the whole thing here. (It turned out to feature two quasi-premières: the arrangements for string quartet of Mary Magdalene’s first aria and the first scene of the scene of Act Two of Lysistrata were heard here for the first time.) The other evening was for my new friends at Dallas Opera, at their beautiful Nasher Sculpture Garden; and at the end of which, as you can read here and here, we announced my next project, which I have tentatively entitled Becoming Santa Claus; Dallas opera’s new and lauded music director, Emmanuel Villaume, will be conducting the first performances, which we are affirming for December of 2015.
Opera America hosts a series called Creators in Concert: on November 12, I’ll be the latest composer/librettist invited to present and discuss some of his work. I’ll be joined by three terrific singers—Leah Wool, William Ferguson, and Philip Cutlip—and a vivid young string quartet from the Juilliard School: we’ll be sharing a sequence from Lysistrata, a performance of Aristotle (a piece I wrote this year for Thomas Hampson and the Jupiter Quartet) and, of course, music from The Gospel of Mary Magdalene in its first New York performance. Come hear! More details here.
The Gospel of Mary Magdalene opened at San Francisco Opera Wednesday night: wizardly Michael Christie led a sovereign cast, an immaculate chorus, and a protean orchestra through my score, and the singers–led by Sasha Cooke, Nathan Gunn, William Burden, and Maria Kanyova–made every word tell under the dramatically sensitive and pictorially elegant direction of Kevin Newbury. On David Korins’ archaeological installation of a set, iridescently lit by Christopher Maravich, the cast and chorus appeared and disappeared as if by magic: and Constance Hoffman’s costumes, ancient or modern as needed, told a clear and moving story. Of course, the piece is still growing in performance: we are still seeking the ideal balance of contemplation and momentum in the first act, by far the more intricate of the two; but any composer would have been awed and humbled by the artistry lavished on this premiėre.
To the surprise of exactly no one with an interest in the topic and a broadband connection, the reviews have been mixed. Among the generous notices, I was most grateful for Joshua Kosman’s in the San Francisco Chronicle; his description most closely matches the piece I tried to make. Pamela Feinsilber for The Huffington Post, Chloe Velter for Arts Journal, Jeffrey S. McMillan for Bachtrack, and Beth Spotswood for CBS were comparably supportive; writers such as Stephen Smoliar and William Burnett, each writing multiple features, went into extraordinary depth. The dissenters, Tolstoyesque, each dissented in their own way; the libretto was muddled or overcomplex, unless it was simple and straightforward as a Broadway musical (which made it dumbed-down, notwithstanding the extensive research, which was itself problematic;) the music was bland, unless it was astringent; melodic but slight, or dense but unmelodic; and so on. (Everybody liked the orchestration.)
Some of this is easy to dismiss. An école-de-Limbaugh rant lost me after its first reference to Sandra Fluke. The less-is-more approach I take in my music will never be appreciated by a writer who uses the word “fitful” as praise. As I had criticized, online, the work of artists whom one New York writer had passionately advocated–a substantial breach of collegiality which I subsequently withdrew, and for which I later apologized to the artists involved, but who can unring a bell?—I was disappointed, but hardly surprised, when his notice did not so much engage the new opera (he’d admired the previous two) as wave it away. I was surprised by how many of the unpersuaded used the footnotes of the libretto as a lorgnette through which to squint at the entire enterprise: as if documenting the sources of a narrative of the illegitimacy and sexuality of Jesus, and of misogyny in the early Church, was not the appropriate substantiation of a multi-million-dollar project, but mere vanity on the author’s part.
Well: as problems go, &c. “My third opera has been given its première in a nonpareil production by the most adventurous and distinguished large opera company in the United States: and it’s gotten mixed reviews! Call FEMA!” The second performance was more beautiful and urgent than the first, which was already at a very high level: our third is tomorrow night. What these artists continue to give to, and through, this piece and this company is a gift I will never forget.
Three weeks and counting: San Francisco Opera has been lavish with rehearsal time for The Gospel of Mary Magdalene, the conductor and director have been amazingly precise, generous, and inventive, and the singers go from strength to strength. And word is getting out: this New York Times/IHT preview piece includes Henry Fair’s beautiful imagery, and Listen Magazine has been gracious enough to permit me to include the eloquent preview Damian Fowler wrote for them here. (Pictured: Nathan Gunn as Yeshua and Sasha Cooke in the title rôle. Image courtesy of J. Henry Fair.)
…is the name of the extraordinary Billy Collins poem on which I based my new piece for baritone and string quartet: Music Accord commissioned it for the matchless Thomas Hampson and the Jupiter String Quartet, and now that it’s complete and off to the artists (it was touch and go there for a while) I’m happy to announce the performances. The première will be in Davis, California, at the Mondavi Center on April 24th: then we all travel to Boston, for its début on the Celebrity Series before concluding the initial tour at Tully Hall, under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
As I mentioned in May, I can hardly be objective about the piece, but I thought Fort Worth Opera’s production of Lysistrata was exemplary in every way: so I couldn’t be happier for the company that both Olin Chism of the Star-Telegram and Wayne Lee Gay of D Magazine have included Lysistrata among their best musical events of 2012.
The author and annotator Thomas May, whose 2002 article (for andante.com) on Little Women and other new operas made a gracious and lucid argument for that score, has written for the November issue of San Francisco Opera’s magazine a preview piece (.pdf) on The Gospel of Mary Magdalene. Tom is the author of Decoding Wagner: An Invitation to His World of Music-Drama, and The John Adams Reader: Essential Writings on an American Composer; his article makes as eloquent an introduction to the world of the piece as one could wish. (Portraits by the peerless Henry Fair.)
The Constella Festival, a festival in Cincinnati only beginning its second season, has hit the ground running–Anthony McGill, Anne Akiko Meyers, and Jean-YvesThibaudet are performing, and Nico Muhly is composer-in-residence–so of course I’m delighted they’ve announced the premiere of my concertino for two flutes and string quartet, which is named August Music but will be introduced on the opening concert on September 30th. Hearty thanks to Nina Perlove (pictured), co-soloist with Randy Bowman, and to festival leader Tatiana Berman for for making it happen.
…is the name of the wonderful painter Rebecca Allan’s new portrait series, in which John and I, when asked, were delighted to take part: as the accompanying video attests, Sophie (principal beast-in-residence) lobbied pointedly (07:45, 12:08) for inclusion, but the series is limited to couples, not families, in the arts, and moreover Sophie’s attempts at the viola have not, so far, been promising. The show opens June 12: more details here.