Second Workshop: New American Opera Previews
On March 10, 2002 the music from act II of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On was workshopped presented under the sponsorship of the National Opera Association and Opera Index at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City in a program entitled New American Opera Previews: From Page to Stage.
About 100 people assembled for this program that featured excerpts from the Stein opera, The Lost Childhood by composer Janice Hamer and librettist Mary Azrael, and Summer by composer Stephen Paulus and librettist Joan Vail Thorne. To put these three operas in perspective, the following profiles provide a quick sketch on subject matter, status of development, and type of music:
The Lost Childhood--a holocaust story based on a memoir by Yehuda Nir. Piano and voice score not yet completed. Music might be characterized as dark with more dissonance than the other two pieces. Presented by American Opera Projects, Inc.
Summer--Early 20h century story based on the novel of the same title by Edith Wharton. Opera premieres in June 2002. Music might be characterized as romantic new classical music. Presented by the Manhattan School of Music Opera Studio.
Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On--three portraits of Gertrude Stein's life and work from 1908-1944 as researched and embellished by poet-librettist Karren Alenier. Piano and voice score are completed. Music might be characterized as a fusion of new classical music and jazz. Presented by Encompass New Opera Theatre and Nancy Rhodes, artistic director.
Presented from the Stein opera was all of Act II music and "I Have the Words" aria from Act I. Act II is set in April 1935 when Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas drive from L.A. to Oakland so Gertrude can visit her childhood home. Gertrude Stein, played by Ann Hoyt, and Alice Toklas, played by Stephanie Tennill, were the featured sopranos. A quartet of music theater singers--Breanna Pine, Rita Dottor, Ritchie Portela, and Dominic Sheahan-Stahl provided choral shading. The music director was Dominick Amendum and accompanist was Ryan Sandburg. Crystal Banfield added style and flair as the Master of the Libretto, a speaking part in this presentation.
If you attended the first workshop in July 2001 held in the Washington, DC area, you might remember that the selections from Act I music, depicting the legendary party Picasso gave in honor of primitive painter Henri Rousseau, was lyrical and seemingly uncomplicated musically. Act II music by contrast offers a more complicated palette of sound but is still lyric and easy to recall. Karren particularly likes "What Does It Matter" where Gertrude laments that her audience is paying attention to her corporal life and not her body of work. The way Bill musicalizes the line "pay attention to what I write" which involves layers of repetition and maybe a blue note phrasing, a jazzy use of the third, gives an emotional zing to those words. The closing song "The Trouble with Arriving" soars when Gertrude sings, "Alice, you are my life, the sun in the sky, no shadow."
Here's what Bill Banfield said when Karren asked about the jazzy moves from flats to naturals: “Well you may be right that you are responding to some "jazzy" voicings moving along chromatically. With those close closed-voiced sonorities, these sections provide kind of sour/sweet dissonance that ambiguously begs for resolution.. then you get it. That psychological play with motion, dissonance and release really sticks to the inner ear, and I think the Soul as well. But, Dear Poet , the words set the opportunity up because you know the words, and what they mean. This makes it all the more gratifying. Add to that, a singer's color in her voice and her special interpretive gift, and boy!!"
Other highlights of the performance included the quartet taking turns speaking the lines of the poem that begins "She was flippy lady a real sixer in a deck of nine." Nancy, Bill and Karren urged the quartet to relax and be themselves (to use their non-operatic theater abilities). It worked because afterwards people commented enthusiastically about that aspect of the presentation. Also the Manhattan School kindly gave the Master of the Libretto use of a magnificent gong.
The three opera excerpts were followed by a panel discussion led by Public Television System and classical music station WQXR moderator Midge Woolsey. The panel included the composers and librettists from each work.
The opera presentations ran just under two hours and the panel discussion was about 30 minutes. Manhattan School of Music made a voice recording and has promised to give a copy to each theater group. No media coverage occured. Comments from the audience were collected orally, on a written comment form, and through email after the presentation.
In partnership with the time and resources of Encompass New Opera Theatre and Nancy Rhodes, this presentation was supported financially by The Word Works, the co-commissioner with Encompass New Opera Theatre of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On. s