UrbanArias, a new opera company dedicated to producing short, contemporary operas, presents its Inaugural Festival of Contemporary Opera from March 31 – April 10, 2011 at Artisphere’s Black Box Theater in Arlington, VA. Three operas will be presented: Glory Denied by Tom Cipullo and Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Euridice, and Green Sneakers.
Ricky Ian Gordon’s musical Sycamore Trees was presented in May and June 2010 at Signature Theatre, and recently received Helen Hayes Award nominations for The Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play or Musical, Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Musical for Marc Kudisch, Outstanding Musical Direction, Resident Production for Fred Lassen, and Outstanding Ensemble, Resident Musical.
I asked Ricky Ian Gordon about his two operas:
“Orpheus and Euridice and Green Sneakers are part of the central event that for me was like a door opening into a larger part of myself and produced many works including my musicals Sycamore Trees, and Dream True, (written with Tina Landau), my opera The Tibetan Book of the Dead (written with Jean Claude Van Itallie), and my song cycle Late Afternoon, (poems by Jane Kenyon, Marie Howe and Jean Valentine), which was, the death of my partner Jeffrey, in 1996.
For some reason, though there was enormous loss throughout my life, until that point, I was walled off, protected from something called Grief…I did not know what it was. When it finally had me in its talons, the effect was so violent and turbulent…it took about a decade of writing about it to exorcise…and it is not gone, but I am changed, transformed by writing about it.
In Orpheus and Euridice, which was commissioned by Todd Palmer, the clarinetist who plays Orpheus with Urban Arias – and for whom the piece was created when it won an OBIE Award at Lincoln Center in 2005 – I tell the story of what happened to Jeffrey and me, through a myth which was sort of given to me at a fever pitch in a dream one morning at 4AM. I awoke and saw the whole thing and wrote the libretto in a gasp. It is written in two acts, though normally performed in one. Act One is about the birth of love, and Act Two, in which Euridice gets a mysterious virus that robs her incrementally from Orpheus, it is about the birth of art.
Green Sneakers was born when I was asked by Eugenia Zukerman to be the composer-in-residence at Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in 2008 and one day, meditating during the 2nd production of my opera The Grapes Of Wrath in Utah, I remembered a set of poems I wrote while staring desolately from our bed into Jeffrey sneakers in the closet after he died. These poems were about the day we bought those sneakers and that time in our life when we were in the emergency room of life careening towards a known and difficult fate. In some ways, these two pieces are like side A and side B of the record…one, a story told metaphorically…and one, the exact details.
When Robert Wood, the artistic director of Urban Arias, who I met when he assisted the conductor Grant Gershon on the premiere of The Grapes Of Wrath, in Minnesota in 2007, asked me if I would do something for his new company, I suggested these two pieces because they are so manageable in scope.
Orpheus and Euridice is for clarinet, piano and soprano, the incomparable Elizabeth Futral, a frequent muse for me, whose voice I had in mind when I wrote this piece, and Green Sneakers is for Baritone, String Quartet, Empty Chair, and Piano which sits mysteriously until it purpose is figured out onstage. Happily, Robert agreed and I am lucky enough to see both of my precious intimate musings in Arlington where I was so generously treated only a year ago when my Sycamore Trees premiered at The Signature Theatre.
I write this from Norfolk where I am preparing my new work (with librettist Mark Campbell) Rappahannock County, a piece based during The Civil War. I feel very lucky that all three of these works are being directed by the wonderful vital intelligent and imaginative new opera director on the scene, Kevin Newbury, who I was fortunate enough to meet this year. What I look foreword to is his simple honest approach to the work. I will come this weekend and see the double bill on April 3rd.
Some people believe there is a specific moment to move on…that one “snaps out of it,” but for me…and this is where I rejoice in being a writer, I have to work things out in detail, and I have to put things through various treatments, mull things over in myriad ways, until I naturally morph into the next chapter. One can only hope that there is enough variety in the repetition, that the story has enough facets to hold different tellings. The great film-maker, Yasujiro Ozu often filmed the same story, twice, three times, believing that each time you tell a story, there is enough nuance and shift and change, that it earns it’s re-telling, He is a hero of mine and clearly an influence”.
Orpheus and Euridice by Ricky Ian Gordon plays March 31 at 8 p.m., April 1 at 6:30 p.m., April 3 at 2 p.m. (double-bill with Green Sneakers), and April 5 at 7:30 p.m.
Green Sneakers by Ricky Ian Gordon plays Friday, April 1 at 8:30 p.m., Sunday, April 3 at 2 p.m. (double-bill with Orpheus), Wednesday, April 6 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, April 8 at 8 p.m., Saturday, April 9 at 7 p.m., and Sunday, April 10 at 7 p.m.
Glory Denied by Tom Cipullo plays Saturday, April 2 at 8 pm, Sunday, April 3 at 7 pm, Thursday, April 7 at 8 pm, Saturday, April 9 at 9 pm, and Sunday, April 10 at 2 pm.
Listen to my interview with Ricky Ian Gordon talking about Sycamore Trees here.