From Erin Keane on WUOL: http://wuol.org/#historically-re-imagined-opera-theater-and-writers-block/
Courier Journal October 5, 2013
‘The King’s Man’ composer and librettist talk about new opera: “The King’s Man” will premiere with the Kentucky Opera. The opera is about the turbulent relationship between Benjamin Franklin and his illegitimate son William. (By Elizabeth Kramer, The Courier-Journal) Oct. 5, 2013
The University of Louisville’s Kimcherie Lloyd conducts Danielle Messina (who plays Mary) , Marco Cammarota (as William Franklin) and Cesar Mendez-Silvagnoli as Benjamin Franklin in the new opera ‘The King’s Man.’ / Courtesy Kentucky Opera.
‘THE KING’S MAN’ AND ‘DANSE RUSSE’
What: Kentucky Opera presents two one-act operas composed by Paul Moravec with libretto by Terry Teachout by Kentucky Opera.
When: 8 p.m. Friday; 2 p.m. Saturday. (An opera preview with composer and librettist will be presented one hour before each performance. An Opera Talk Back with the artistic team, stage directors and artists will be held after Saturday’s performance.)
Where: Comstock Hall, University of Louisville School of Music
Information: (502) 584-4500 or www.kyopera.org
WUOL Lunchtime Classics/Lunch & Listen: Stage artists perform selections from the upcoming productions, and Kentucky Opera general director David Roth provides commentary.
When: Noon Wednesday (also broadcast live at WUOL, Classical 90.5)
Where: Louisville Public Media, 619 S. Fourth St.
Admission: Free. Call (502) 584-4500 for reservations.
Information: (502) 584-4500 or kyopera.org or wuol.org
“Right now I’m very invested in opera. I’m in opera land right now,” said Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec as he was getting ready to come to Louisville. The trip is to premiere his work, “The King’s Man,” with the Kentucky Opera. The opera is about the turbulent relationship between Benjamin Franklin and his illegitimate son William.
Moravec has written about 150 compositions, mostly chamber music that includes the 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning “Tempest Fantasy.” Now, four years after the Santa Fe Opera premiered his first opera — written with Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout as librettist — the composer and Teachout are in Louisville to debut “The King’s Man.”
This production marks the continuation of a Kentucky Opera experiment to produce new works in partnership with the University of Louisville’s School of Music that began in February 2009. That’s when composer Jake Heggie (“The End of the Affair”) came to work with singers from both institutions for a public performance of his music. Kentucky Opera general director David Roth has called producing contemporary opera an effort to make the company “relevant in the industry.”
The current fruits of the experiment will be on view Friday and Saturday when seven singers in the Kentucky Opera’s studio artists’ program perform the one-act opera “The King’s Man” for the first time along with a companion piece by Moravec and Teachout called “Danse Russe.”
The title of “The King’s Man” refers to William Franklin, who, unlike his father, was a Tory and loyal to King George III, a situation that led him to flee to England in 1782. The opera imagines the final meeting between father and son. The new opera is tied to Moravec’s longtime fascination with Franklin.
“The more I’ve learned about Franklin, the more I’m impressed about him. His mind was so capacious and varied and comprehensive and influential. He not only helped invent the United States but was the foremost natural scientist of his time,” he said.
Moravec also wrote a cantata set to text by Benjamin Franklin called “Useful Knowledge” that premiered at an American Philosophical Society celebration of Franklin’s 300th birthday in 2006.
“The King’s Man” is a result of Moravec’s strong collaborative working relationship with Teachout, who encouraged Moravec to begin writing opera over lunch. At that time, the two had been friends and lived in the same Upper West Side neighborhood for many years.
“I said to Paul, ‘You should write an opera,’ ” Teachout remembered in a recent phone call. “And he said, ‘I will if you write the libretto.’ ”
The Santa Fe Opera approached Moravec to write his first opera, and the composer worked with Teachout to create “The Letter,” which is based on the 1927 play by W. Somerset Maugham.
Moravec and Teachout said they approached their first collaboration knowing that keeping their egos out of their collaborative process was key. Teachout, who said he values Moravec as the senior partner in their endeavors, even researched the relationships between noted composers and librettists throughout history.
“We have our eyes on getting to the best possible solution in working on a piece,” said Moravec, adding that he also takes Teachout’s advice on musical details, given the writer’s professional background as a musician.
After the debut of “The Letter,” the duo found a second opportunity to work together when Philadelphia’s Center City Opera Theater approached the composer to create a one-act opera to be performed in 2011 with Stravinsky’s opera “Renard.” That Stravinsky opera had premiered in 1922 with the legendary dance company Ballets Russe at the Theatre de l’Opera in Paris, featuring choreography by Bronislava Nijinska.
Stravinsky’s history gave Teachout the idea of creating an opera with a vaudeville style about Ballets Russes and the roles of its main players — composer Igor Stravinsky, producer Sergei Diaghilev, choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky (Bronislava’s brother) and conductor Pierre Monteux — in creating “The Rite of Spring.” The ballet made a scandalous debut in Paris in 1913 that, according to reports, set off boos and hisses in the audience and nearly caused a riot. They called their one-act opera “Danse Russe.”
In creating “The King’s Man,” Moravec and Teachout have set out to create another historically inspired opera using the same orchestration and same number and kinds of singers as “Danse Russe.” At the same time, they wanted a piece with a different mood. Teachout described “Danse Russe” as “a serious comedy” and “The King’s Man” as a “dark domestic drama.”
After the Kentucky Opera performances of their one-act operas, Moravec and Teachout will leave for other projects. For Teachout, that means not only going back to his regular work with The Wall Street Journal and as critic-at-large of commentary, but also launching a tour promoting his latest book, “Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington,” which is to be released Oct. 17.
For Moravec, it means continuing to compose, including more opera. Next title on his workbench: “The Shining,” based on Stephen King’s novel, for the Minnesota Opera to premiere in 2016. (On this project, Moravec is working with librettist Mark Campbell, who penned the words to the contemporary opera “Silent Night,” with music by Kevin Puts, which Minnesota Opera premiered and which won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music.)
But the two said they expect to create operas together again. In part, Moravec said he credits the availability of more composition work to “the golden age of American opera” going on right now.
“Some people say opera is dead. But I don’t see that,” he said. “Four hundred years ago, opera was invented by the Italians, and every culture creates its own brand of opera. In America, we’re a relatively young culture and still creating our own tradition.”
Someday,operas that spotlight American novels and giants, such as Ben Franklin, could form a basis of such a tradition.
Elizabeth Kramer can be reached at (502) 582-4682.