Best wishes for a happiness, health, love and friendship. and a great deal of fun in 2011!
For Fritz and me the new year brings the a new enterprise in our careers. Some of you know this, but last April in the midst of a dinner conversation with the head of the Boston-based chamber opera I've been designing for the last seven years, the subject of a newly commissioned opera came up that had everything arranged for it -- preliminary funding, a composer, a conductor and chamber orchestra, and the interest of a prominent star soprano now resident in New England -- but there was no subject for it.
I asked him what his requirements for the story were, and he said a big role for the aforementioned soprano and if the story had something to do with Boston, so much the better.
Without an hesitation, I immediately said Isabella Stewart Gardner -- social rebel; dynamic arts advocate; patron of painters, musicians, writers; hostess of one of the great salons in the country at which she introduced everybody to everybody, thereby aiding the birth of enormous numbers of arts projects; feminist almost before there was feminism; and purchaser of a massive private collection of paintings and art objects that was eventually housed in a handsome Venetian palazzo-inspired building of her own design and given to the city of Boston as the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Do Google her if you don't know her -- she is an amazing figure.
He looked at me and said that it was a huge life; could it be captured in a one act chamber opera? I asked if it would be OK for me to make up a scenario to see what might be managed and he said yes. I went home that night and told Fritz what had happened and he immediately said, "It starts during the 1990 burglary -- flashlights in total darkness and suddenly Isabella is there, drawn back through the ether to protect her creation as the paintings disappear with the thieves." I countered with an ending that I will not reveal because we believe it to be something of a coup de théâtre and are saving it for the premiere. But we agreed that we had our beginning and ending, reputedly the two hardest parts of any literary piece to create. From there we traced a trajectory for the plot from Isabella's arrival in Boston from New York City and immediate friction with staid Boston society to the 1903 opening night of the Museum (she lived in an apartment in the top floor) in 1903 in five scenes, some very comic, others very human and even tragic as necessary to tell the story..
Another scenario was submitted but the creative team chose ours and we were commissioned to write the text, which we completed and submitted at the end of May. We had a very enjoyable collaboration with the composer, Robert Edward Smith, while he was writing the music, mostly taking little tucks or adding extra words here and there as required by the vocal lines he was developing. The musical score was finished a couple of months ago, and we've heard it via a MIDI file which is a little "mechanical" sounding but gives a very good idea of the music. Although it is his first opera, Robert not only writes good music with interesting melodies and harmonies, but he also knows how to write theatrical scenes and depict characters in music.
Intermezzo, The New England Chamber Opera Series
the premiere performances of
A Place of Beauty
An opera inspired by the life of Isabella Stewart Gardner
Robert Edward Smith, composer
Libretto by William Fregosi and Fritz Bell from their own story
Barbara Kilduff, soprano, as Isabella
David Feltner, conductor
Kirsten Cairns, director
William Fregosi, set and lighting design
Saturday, May 14 & Sunday, May 15
At the Boston Conservatory of Music Theater
8 The Fenway, Boston, MA 02215