April 08

Q&A with WNO dramaturg Kelley Rourke about her new adaptation of The Magic Flute

​Talk about your process of preparing a new adaptation of a classic opera.

For me, the process starts with the music—I need to understand how a number works musically before I begin to think about the words. The story has to be clear and compelling, but if it doesn’t sound good, I haven’t done my job.

Many people have had the experience of spontaneously inventing new text for an existing tune (“Weird Al” Yankovic even made a career out of it), and sometimes I’m lucky enough to have the perfect English rendering of a line pop into my head. Other times, I might make a list of words that have something to do with the aria in question, spinning off lists of synonyms and rhyming words—the same way a chef assembles her mise en place before she really gets cooking. If the opera has a play or novel as its source, I’ll keep that close at hand for additional ideas.

You have prepared other translations of The Magic Flute before. What makes this new adaptation different?

Jun Kaneko’s set and costumes offer a bright, playful setting for the familiar story, and I’ve tried to support that sense of whimsy through some of my verbal choices.

How do you balance the concerns of telling the story clearly and choosing words and rhymes that can be musical?

The task of creating a singing translation has many intersecting—but not necessarily competing—concerns. It can be like working a giant crossword puzzle: Is the story clear? Does the verbal climax or “punch line” align with the musical high point? Does it sound like vernacular English? Will this vowel work in that tessitura? Does the tone of the language match the tone of the music? Would the character in question use that turn of phrase? Sometimes I may have to let go of a line that 100% satisfies in one area because it flunks in another.

The music helps me set priorities. For Papageno’s jaunty, vaudevillian numbers, humor and sparkle are important; I’m less concerned about helping him create a perfectly liquid legato line. Much of Sarastro’s language, like his music, should sound like it comes out of a hymnal. Pamina and Tamino’s language is more heightened and romantic (except when they temporarily join Papageno’s earthier sound-world). Their rhymes may not always be perfect, but I’d better give them vowels that let their high notes soar!

Many people don’t think of English as a particularly lyrical language for opera—what do you think?

Did you see Show Boat last season? OK. Next question.

Seriously, English can be a challenging language to sing in. It tends to be further back in the mouth than Italian, and it has a lot of dipthongs (blended vowels). I try to choose words that let the voice come through as lyrically as possible. English can be a grand tongue for singing. It just takes a little bit of care on the part of the lyricist (or translator). But this is the case in any language. German can also be quite a mouthful.

What is your favorite part of this new translation that people should listen for?

It’s hard for me to think of the words separate from Mozart’s music, and it’s even more difficult for me to pinpoint favorite musical moments in this glorious score.  But I will say that I had a lot of fun writing for Papageno! 

April 08

The Magic Flute: Further Reading

Mozart and the Enlightenment:
Truth, Virtue, and Beauty in Mozart’s Operas
Nicholas Till explores how Mozart’s operas are informed by ideas and discoveries of the Enlightenment, drawing on writings by Richardson, Voltaire, Rousseau, Kant, Goethe, Schiller, and Blake, among others.

The Operas of Mozart
William Mann gives each of Mozart’s operas a separate chapter in which he considers composition process, source material, and musical analysis, as well as biographical details.

Mozart in Vienna, 1781-1791
Volkmar Braunbehrens’ account of Mozart’s final years considers the intellectual, political, economic, and cultural landscape in which the composer lived and worked.

The Hero with a Thousand Faces
The classic work by Joseph Campbell traces the story of the hero’s journey as revealed by mythologies from diverse cultures.

The Power of Myth
In 1988, PBS broadcast a six-part television documentary, featuring Joseph Campbell interviewed by Bill Moyers. Their wide-ranging conversation—including sections cut from the broadcast—is captured in this volume.

April 08

The Center of Our Own Existence

​by Kelley Rourke

Furthermore, we have not even to risk the adventure alone; for the heroes of all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero-path. And where we had thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we had thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.
—Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces
 
Many sources have been cited for the richly overstuffed cabinet of curiosities that is Mozart and Schikaneder’s The Magic Flute. Jakob August Liebeskind’s “Lulu, oder der Zauberflöte” (“Lulu, or the Magic Flute”), published in 1786 as part of a collection of fairy tales, tells of a prince sent by a fairy to rescue her daughter from an evil wizard; he accomplishes his mission with the help of—you guessed it—an enchanted wind instrument. Ritual elements can be found in Sethos (1731), a novel by Jean Terrasson that sought to forge a link between contemporary Freemasonry and ancient Egypt. Other possible sources include Phillip Hafner’s play Megara, the Terrible Witch (1763) and the Karl Ludwig Giesecke’s Singspiel Oberon (1789). The Zauberoper, or “magic opera,” a popular genre in Vienna at the time, was itself defined by some of elements we associate with Flute—splendid scene changes, onstage animals, and magical objects used to conquer villains.
 
In truth, the archetypes and encounters that make up The Magic Flute have been a part of our collective consciousness as long as stories have been told. Tamino’s journey shares certain features with other works Mozart and Schikaneder were likely to have encountered; it also follows the universal hero-path described by Joseph Campbell, a path that is traveled again and again in ritual, in literature, in dreams.
 
This path begins with a call to adventure; in Tamino’s case, the irresistible lure of a beautiful girl in need of rescue. The hero responds to the call with refusal at first; here, it is not Tamino, but his companion, Papageno, who is reluctant to answer the call of destiny. He is persuaded to go forward when supernatural aid is offered in the form of a magic flute and bells, as well as guidance from three spirits. The hero’s next task is crossing the first threshold, where a guardian (the Speaker) tests whether he is ready for the challenges that lie within, in the belly of the whale. As Tamino continues the journey inward, he undergoes a series of trials before he can be reborn, united with his female complement, as a mature, contributing member of society.
 
Both Mozart and Schikaneder were members of Masonic lodges—secular fraternal organizations concerned with spiritual and moral values—so it is no surprise that the hero-path they present in The Magic Flute also borrows details from Masonic initiation rituals. The initiation is only that, a beginning; the path does not end with the completion of the final trial. Like the initiates of Mozart’s lodge, our hero must now go forth to share his revelations and encourage others on the path of self-perfection, tolerance, and enlightenment.
 
 
When virtue and enlightenment
arise in human hearts and minds
Elysium is every place
and mortals shine with godlike grace.
 
 —Kelley Rourke is the dramaturg of Washington National Opera. 
February 26

Beautiful Singing

The operas of Gaetano Donizetti (1797-1848), Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868), and Vincenzo Bellini (1801-1835) are at the core of what we now call the bel canto repertory. Italian for “beautiful singing,” the term first appeared in the late 17th century. The aesthetic embodied in Donizetti’s operas calls for vocal elegance, evenness, and flexibility; his Elixir of Love demonstrates bel canto ideals beautifully, with vocal lines that thrill our ears and touch our hearts.

Written with librettist Felice Romani, Elixir was an immediate success, and today it is one of Donizetti’s best-loved scores. At the center of the story is Nemorino, a young peasant in love with a girl who seems hopelessly out of his reach. His opening aria, “Quanto è bella,” is a sweet and slightly pathetic plea, soon drowned out by a jolly chorus of workers; his music takes on a bright new character when he sips an elixir guaranteed to change his luck. Nemorino’s celebrated second act aria, “Una furtiva lagrima,” is both a beautiful melody and a remarkable musical illustration: we hear how he shifts between hope and uncertainty after he catches a glimpse of his beloved in an unguarded moment.

Adina, Nemorino’s love interest, takes her own musical journey to reach that point. Pert and sassy to begin—the first sound we hear out of her mouth is a laugh—she goes on to display considerable warmth and generosity by “Prendi, per me sei libero.” Donizetti’s musical characterizations for Sergeant Belcore and Doctor Dulcamara, two distinctive charismatic figures, are no less telling. Belcore, the romantic hero of his own dreams, is all long lines and martial rhythms, while the shifty salesman Dulcamara makes an impression with rapid-fire patter and engaging bluster. In addition to sparkling solos for each of the four main characters, Donizetti’s score is stuffed with brilliant duets and ensembles.

With the operas of Verdi and Wagner, a heavier, more declamatory style of singing came into fashion. Only a handful of Italian masterpieces from the first half of the 19th century remained in the repertory; it was not until the mid-20th century that singers like Maria Callas, Beverly Sills, and Joan Sutherland began to champion forgotten bel canto works, demonstrating that “beautiful singing” need not be an end in itself, but can be a vehicle for greater expressiveness.”

Donizetti wrote some of our most beloved bel canto operas; in addition to Elixir, we can thank him for Lucrezia Borgia (1833), Lucia di Lammermoor (1835), The Daughter of the Regiment (1840), Don Pasquale (1843), and many others. A review of his career reminds us that it can be premature to judge a composer based on his first (or second, or third, or even tenth) opera. Donizetti wrote his first opera when he was nineteen, but it was not until 35 operas later that he had his first major hit, Anna Bolena. Elixir followed two years later, one of four operas he wrote in 1832. Donizetti eventually wrote more than 60 works for the stage.

WNO's first production of The Elixir of Love was in 1977, followed by performances in 1981, 1983, 1997, and 2006. Other productions of Donizetti’s works include Don Pasquale (1979, 1987, 1993, and 2011), Il furioso all'isola di San Domingo (1979), Lucia di Lammermoor (1980, 1989, 2002, and 2011), The Daughter of the Regiment (1986, 1994, and 2007), Anna Bolena (1993 and 2012) and Lucrezia Borgia (2008).

—Kelley Rourke is the dramaturg of Washington National Opera

February 26

The Elixir of Love: Recommended Reading

The Bel Canto Operas of Rossini, Donizetti, and Bellini
This volume examines more than 100 operas by three great masters of bel canto, giving attention to performance history, plot, and musical analysis.

Divas and Scholars: Performing Italian Opera
While Philip Gossett’s book does not treat The Elixir of Love in depth, it offers a fascinating study of the issues involved in producing the operas of the bel canto period. (Hint: “Stick to the score” rarely offers a complete solution.) Gossett, who serves as general editor for the new critical editions of the complete works of Verdi (University of Chicago Press/Casa Ricordi) and Rossini (Bärenreiter Verlag), calls on careful scholarship and years of practical experience in the theater for this illuminating and entertaining volume.

The Placebo Effect: An Interdisciplinary Exploration
This book, edited by Anne Harrington, collects articles by experts in a range of fields—neurology, neurobiology, psychology, gastroenterology, and history. It also includes an interdisciplinary “conversation” across disciplines that explores when and how placebos can play a role in health.

Plants with Benefits: An Uninhibited Guide to the Aphrodisiac Herbs, Fruits, Flowers & Veggies in Your Garden
Looking for a homegrown love potion? Award winning garden writer Helen Yoest explores the idea of aphrodisiac plants through the lenses of history, lore, ethnobotany, and modern science. The New York Times called the 2014 book “a diverting rabbit hole.”

—Kelley Rourke is the dramaturg of Washington National Opera

February 26

Snake Oil, Suggestion, and the Power of a Taking a Stance

​“Comprate il mio specifico,” Doctor Dulcamara tells the unwitting residents of a sleepy Basque village. “Come buy my secret recipe!” Touted as a cure-all for paralytics, apoplectics, asthmatics, hysterics, diabetics, and a host of other sufferers, Dulcamara’s elixir is part of a run of “patent medicines” that began a century earlier. These tonics represented progress, all right—not for medical science, but for the emergent field of advertising.

Three years after Donizetti wrote The Elixir of Love, William Brandreth moved from England to the U.S. hoping to find a market for his “Vegetable Universal Pill,” but the product did not take off until his grandson, Benjamin, began printing pamphlets and books to promote the brand. Brandreth’s cathartic went on to earn a mention in Moby-Dick—and a not insignificant fortune. The younger Brandreth, who later served in the New York State Senate, was the first President of the Westchester County Savings Bank and the owner of the first private preserve (some 26,000 acres) in New York’s Adirondack Park.

Many old-time topical elixirs claimed snake oil as an active ingredient (hence the term “snake oil salesman”). The advertising may have been false, but the relief was often real, thanks to a couple of ingredients still used in modern panaceas: camphor (Mentholatum, Vicks VapoRub, Bengay) and capsaicin (Icy Hot, Zostrix).

French Wine Coca Nerve Tonic, developed by Colonel John Pemberton to offer non-addictive pain relief to Civil War vets, offered a double buzz—alcohol and a trace of cocaine. A non-alcoholic version, Coca-Cola, was introduced during the Prohibition era and advertised as a cure for diseases including morphine addiction, dyspepsia, neurasthenia, headache, and impotence. Today’s Coke omits the cocaine but delivers a substantial hit of caffeine and sugar to help consumers shake off lethargy.

While some elixirs contained ingredients that offered effective and replicable distraction from symptoms, others relied on the placebo effect. Latin for “I will please,” the term refers to sham medications given—sometimes by bona fide physicians—to soothe a patient’s health concerns. Research suggests that the power of suggestion can actually relieve some conditions. Since pain, muscle fatigue, and certain immune responses are directly controlled by the brain, a patient’s belief in a medication can stimulate the body to heal itself.

Dulcamara’s elixir relies less on the placebo effect than on the temporary euphoria brought on by alcohol consumption. When he appears on the scene, his “specifico” has been neither marketed nor tested for its ability to inspire love, but such trifles are of no concern to Dulcamara when he sells a bottle to Nemorino; the Doctor intends to be long gone before his ruse is discovered.

The Doctor’s prescription is an unusual one; most love potions (think of Tristan and Isolde or A Midsummer Night’s Dream) must be applied to or consumed by the reluctant object of affection. Certainly the “secret ingredient” in Dulcamara’s preparation has a track record of lowering inhibitions, although, as Shakespeare notes, alcohol “provokes the desire, but takes away the performance.”

Nemorino needs no provocation, of course, but his newfound confidence attracts Adina’s perplexed attention immediately. This comes as no surprise—the body language of an alpha male can exert a powerful attraction. More recent research has found that taking a “power position” (for instance, standing with legs spread and hands on hips) can alter body chemistry, increasing levels of testosterone and decreasing levels of cortisol. In other words, it’s possible that Nemorino’s swagger triggers his attitude adjustment, rather than the other way around.

 
—Kelley Rourke is the dramaturg of Washington National Opera
 
January 28

Moby-Dick: Recommended Reading

​Further Journeys with the White Whale
Start with Herman Melville’s epic novel—or not. There are a number of ways to learn more about the crew of the Pequod and their doomed quest.

Heggie and Scheer’s Moby Dick: A Grand Opera for the 21st Century
Inspired by the world premiere production of Moby-Dick, Robert K. Wallace, a past-president of the Melville Society, tells the story of the opera’s creation. This handsome volume includes more than 200 color photos, interviews with artists, and the full libretto.

Moby Dick | Big Read
In spring of 2011, artist Angela Cockayne and writer Philip Hoare invited artists, writers, musicians, scientists and academics to participate in a three-day symposium inspired by their obsession with Moby-Dick. The tremendous response inspired an online version of Melville’s epic, with an original artwork to accompany a recording of each chapter. Readers include Tilda Swinton, Simon Callow, Fiona Shaw—and 132 more. www.mobydickbigread.com

Moby-Dick in Pictures
Artist Matt Kish created on image for each page of the 552-page Signet Classics paperback edition of Moby-Dick. He uses collage, ballpoint pen, marker, paint, crayon, ink and watercolor for his “deliberately low-tech” response to the text.

The Trying-Out of Moby-Dick
Howard P. Vincent’s study of Melville’s sources was an important resource for librettist Gene Scheer as he created his version of the story.

January 28

Behind the scenes with Moby-Dick stage manager, Lisa Anderson

​They were as one man, not thirty. For as the one ship that held them all; though it was put together of all contrasting things—oak, and maple, and pine wood; iron, and pitch, and hemp—yet all these ran into each other in the one concrete hull, which shot on its way, both balanced and directed by the long central keel; even so, all the individualities of the crew... all varieties were welded into oneness, and were all directed to that fatal goal which Ahab their one lord and keel did point it.

Countless “individualities” and “contrasting things” must come together in a precise sequence for any opera production, and Moby-Dick is more complicated than most. While the conductor sets the overall pace, it is the stage manager who makes sure all the elements come together over the course of the evening. Lisa Anderson, who stage-managed Moby-Dick at San Francisco Opera, now takes the helm at Washington National Opera.

Because the production has already been mounted by five other companies, many pre-production stage management tasks have already been addressed. “Before beginning rehearsals for any show, I need to know how people get on and off stage, what they have in their hands, and what they’re wearing,” says Lisa. “I’ll look at the model and ask questions like, ‘Is that an entrance in the third wing stage left?’ I’ll look at the score and make a general prop list with the director and designer. If it’s a period drama and a character has a 12-foot train, that’s something they will need in rehearsal.”

While Lisa is familiar with the basics of the production, several new performers are joining the crew of the Pequod in D.C., adding an element of the unknown. “This is really the first time there has been a major cast change in the show since its creation,” says Lisa. “It will be an interesting process to see how they change the chemistry of the show.”

It will undoubtedly be an interesting process for the new cast members as they learn to navigate the production’s considerable physical demands. “Thank goodness we have a rehearsal version of the set,” says Lisa. (Typically, the outlines of a set are marked on the floor of the rehearsal room with tape, and singers do not have an opportunity to work in three dimensions until the final rehearsals in the theater.) “This show has a lot of climbing, a lot of sitting on rungs at different levels. If a singer has to climb 15 feet in the air and clip into a safety harness before singing, he needs to rehearse that. If we didn’t spend money on a rehearsal set, we’d probably have to spend the same amount on extra stage time.”

The show includes a number of supernumeraries, or silent actors, who do the most active work, including climbing and sliding down a curved wall at the rear of the set. The supers in Washington will also be new to the production, but, says Lisa, choreographer Keturah Stickann “has a perfect process. There is one track for each super. Everything that was done by ‘Joe’ in San Diego will be done by ‘Steve’ here.”

Finding supers with climbing skills is one thing; finding a heldentenor capable of singing an entire role while maneuvering on a raked stage with a peg leg is something else. “It took Jay [Hunter Morris] a while to learn how to work with it,” says Lisa. “Now we have a new Ahab, Carl Tanner, who has to figure out what works for him—at the same time as he is learning the music and the staging.” 

Having a version of the set in rehearsal is enormously helpful, but it also poses a challenge for the stage management team, especially when it comes to running large chunks of the opera continuously. “The show has 26 scenes, which means 25 scene changes; things are constantly moving, and the staging is very specific. When you’re in the theater, you have a crew of 40 stagehands, but in the room, it’s just me and a couple of assistants. It’s hard, but fun, to try to get everything physically in place in time.” 
 
Once the show gets to the theater, Lisa does less running around, but she is no less busy. “Doing this show is like calling a regular opera on steroids. For the sequence when the boat is revealed, I have to start talking four pages early to give the standbys for all of the things that have to happen—lighting, rail cues, and video.”
 
“Because there are so many set elements that fly, it’s a tight hang. There haven’t been too many shows where something didn’t get caught.  We’ve had two guys in harnesses walking on trusses trying to keep things from catching during the show. Everyone has to be very aware and be in constant communication.”
 
For the stage manager, Moby-Dick is intense—and rewarding. “I love the challenge of the boat reveal. Same with the boat breaking up: it’s so hard, when you get it right you feel like you’ve won the game,” says Lisa, whose other favorite moment comes during the Starbuck/Ahab duet: “There’s not much for me to do, so I get to sit back and enjoy. It’s such incredible, heart-wrenching music; you just melt. It’s the first time in the opera when everything is still.”
 
-- Kelley Rourke is the dramaturg of Washington National Opera
January 28

​A conversation with librettist Gene Scheer

“The job is really to create a structure that inspires, even demands music.”
When transposing a novel—especially a novel as mighty as Moby Dick—into an opera, where do you begin?
 
When I start, I’m looking for what is overtly operatic. Why set this book to music? That’s the question. What is it about this story that seems operatic? How can music be used to illuminate the story in unique ways? What stands out immediately is Ahab, who is this titanic character. You can hear music when you read those magnificent speeches of his. Much of Ahab’s text in the opera comes straight from the book.
 
I needed a period of time on my own to figure out what the novel meant to me, so I did about six months of reading before Jake and I started working together. I had certain ideas developed and developing when we went to Nantucket together.  In Nantucket, however, Jake and I had a great chance to knock ideas back and forth. After that trip is when I really began writing the libretto.
 
The first text I circled in the book was Pip’s. He is such an important character. Before I even came on board, it was decided that Pip would be a “pants role”—there is a great operatic tradition of having women play adolescent boys. Having a boy soprano play the role would have been very limiting. I knew Pip could show us a different side of Ahab, but we needed a mature actor to do this. We get to witness the narrator’s transformative journey, but Ahab has experienced his most significant transformation before our story begins; we only see him get ever more obsessed and lost. Pip’s emotional damage very briefly threatens to stir a kind of humanity in Ahab, which is something he struggles to suppress.  This struggle humanizes Ahab and creates interesting emotional cross-currents that music can help to explore.
 
The narrator of the novel is someone who is both close to the action and removed from it as he relates events that happened to him “some years ago.”  Tell us a bit about the character of Greenhorn and how he is different from the person who tells us to call him Ishmael.
 
It is a challenge to create an opera from a novel, which is a narrative form. What I’m trying to do is create an active form, with characters making decisions in real time. The big “a-ha” moment was to create the character of Greenhorn, before he’s had this experience, so we can see him in the moment confronting various challenges, even crucibles that ultimately change him.
 
It’s difficult to have a narrator in a dramatic work. Actually, there is a narrator in opera:  it is the composer. As a librettist one has to embrace that. You have to trust the music to fill in the emotional details. In a novel there might be several pages of what it feels like to be in a room, what the wallpaper looks like, etc. In opera you have to allow music to do all of that. The real question that we worked to solve was not, “What do you leave out?” but “What can be described by music alone, so that words are not necessary?”
 
You’ve worn many hats in the theater—composer, lyricist, actor. How do your other experiences play into your work as a librettist? Do you hear music for the words as you write them?
 
I used to hear music—I even wrote dummy tunes—but I don’t anymore. I think the main thing I bring to the process is lots of experience being on stage. I really do understand what a singing actor goes through when learning and developing a role. Knowing that, hopefully I can provide text and characters that are well enough drawn that they make sense to the singers.
 
Everyone thinks a librettist writes words, and that is true, but the job is really to create structure that inspires, even demands music. The principal task is to figure out how the scenes will play, so the music will have pillars to stand on.  I think of the scene in La bohème where Mimì and Rodolfo meet. The text may be beautiful, but what really makes the moment is the idea of these two people who don’t really know each other, looking for the key in the dark—and then he finds it, pockets it, and takes her hand. The scene just begs for music.
 
I’d like to talk about the research process for this piece. Research often starts out as a quest to “get something right,” but sometimes the most valuable harvest is something unexpected—not just a bit of information, but a bit of inspiration.
 
That’s the beauty of working with books versus searching for an answer or materials with Google. When you’re reading, you come across other references. It’s like using a thesaurus—a real one, not an online one—and stumbling across another word.  You knock around from one thought to another.
 
Walter Bezanson talks about Moby-Dick as an organic form, one that grows in a seemingly unplanned way. It’s like a jazz solo that goes off in different directions.  This whole notion of the novel as an organic form informed some of my choices about structure. I wasn’t able to include as much detail on whaling as the book, but I did want to show some of it, like the rendering of the oil. I had to focus on the conflict between Ahab and Starbuck, as well as Greenhorn’s transformative journey.
 
You’ve collaborated with Jake Heggie on a number of other projects.  What’s it like to work with him?
 
Jake is so gifted. In addition to being a wonderful composer, he’s a great reader and editor. When I send him a draft, the nature of his questions announces the fact that I’m working with someone who is brilliant at his craft. He has such a great understanding of the form and what the vocal profile can communicate. Yes, you want a fantastic orchestration, textures that illuminate everything that’s going on,--and Jake’s score succeeds in all of these ways--but in the end, people are singing, and ultimately, the voice is what is going to rock the heart. It doesn’t happen without a good libretto as scaffolding, but the reason we love opera is the music.
 
-- Interview by Kelley Rourke 
January 08

WNO Announces New Commission for the 2014-2015 Season of the American Opera Initiative

​WNO today announced the commission of a new hour-long opera for the 2014-2015 season of the American Opera Initiative, its comprehensive new commissioning program for contemporary American opera. Penny, by composer Douglas Pew and librettist Dara Weinberg (pictured below), will have its world premiere in January 2015 in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. Pew and Weinberg are alumni of the American Opera Initiative; their 20-minute work A Game of Hearts had its world premiere during the program’s first season in November 2012.

Penny is an original story developed by Weinberg about Penny Rutherford, a woman with a disability who discovers her voice and her talent for music, and the ensuing conflict with her family as she changes and grows more independent. A first workshop of the work will be held later this week in Washington, D.C. Penny will be directed by Alan Paul, the Associate Director of Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company.

composer Douglas Pew and librettist Dara WeinbergA Game of Hearts, the first collaboration of Pew and Weinberg, had its world premiere in November 2012 in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater under the auspices of the American Opera Initiative. The comedic opera depicted a group of widows in a Seattle nursing home as they reminisced about their pasts and faced their current situation. In advance of the opera’s world premiere, Pew and Weinberg received mentorship from distinguished advisors who have each enjoyed professional success with new American operas: composer Jake Heggie (WNO’s forthcoming Moby-Dick), librettist Mark Campbell (Silent Night, winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Music), and conductor Anne Manson (Manitoba Chamber Orchestra).
 
“Our experience participating in the inaugural American Opera Initiative in 2012 was a very rewarding and intense learning experience, and Dara and I are honored to be working again with the wonderful staff and young artists at WNO,” said composer Douglas Pew. “To be able to return with a new opportunity to further develop our dramatic voices—this time in an hour-long work—is very exciting indeed.”

Following its critically acclaimed bow in Washington, A Game of Hearts was subsequently presented by Cincinnati’s North American New Opera Workshop in May 2013. It was selected to be performed at the prestigious Opera America New Works Forum, which will take place at 3 p.m. on Monday, January 13, 2014 in New York City. The performance will be streamed live for Opera America members on the Opera America website and will later be available for public viewing on YouTube.
 
“When I first heard A Game of Hearts, I was struck by the sophistication of the storytelling in both the music and the libretto and I am thrilled that Doug and Dara are returning for this new commission,” said Michael Heaston, the director of the American Opera Initiative for WNO. “I am proud that our program is achieving its mission—to continue to foster new American talent and to provide a forum for contemporary American stories and music. I can’t wait to start work on Penny.”
Information about tickets to the world premiere of Penny will be announced in the coming months.
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