News and Features

Ft. Worth Opera Commits to the American and the New

Dog Days by Peak Performances at Montclair State University (photo from New Amsterdam Presents

The Fort Worth Opera has announced it will present three world premieres and two regional premieres over the next three seasons – an ambitious  roster of contemporary works from an opera company. KERA’s Jerome Weeks reports this outpouring of premieres reflects a new, long-term commitment by the company.

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That commitment is a 10-year project called Opera of the Americas. In addition to European classics, Fort Worth Opera will now offer works each season by contemporary composers from North or South America. General director Darren Woods says the company has basically been doing this for several years already. “But we never said to the national foundations, to our own public:  ‘This is a long-term thing. This is not year-to-year and we’re not going to go one day, ‘Oh, let’s just not do that anymore and do something else.’ ‘ As long as I’m here, and even if I weren’t here, if I got hit by a beer truck, the board is still committed to this type of programming.”

With this, Fort Worth Opera officially becomes something of a hatchery for contemporary operas. A year ago, the company launched Frontiers, a new program that sees piano recitals performed of excerpts from up to eight works-in-progress. Woods says he fully expects, in the future, that some of the fledgling pieces workshopped in Frontiers will come back as full productions for Opera of the Americas.

Two of the world premieres in this initial stage of Opera of the Americas have previously been announced. Next season will see With Blood, With Ink, which is about Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz. The 17th-century Mexican nun was a poet and defender of women’s rights in the face of the Inquisition.

The second is a full-length adaptation of the classic sci-fi novel, A Wrinkle in Time, that Fort Worth Opera will now present in 2015. It was originally scheduled for next season but has been postponed. Woods says he didn’t want to push composer Libby Larsen to make the deadline — and he wants the show to have the kind of up-to-date stage technology that will permit people to appear and disappear. That technology, he says, is being advanced every day.

The third world premiere — the new one  announced today — is tentatively called JFK. It’s based on President Kennedy’s last day which began in Fort Worth. The 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination is this year, but Woods says they actually hadn’t thought of that when making their plans. So Fort Worth Opera commissioned the new work for its own 70th anniversary – in 2016.

“I wanted it to be a real Fort Worth story,” says Woods. “But I didn’t want to do something for the 70th anniversary that was going to get done here and never, ever again.”

Which is why, with JFK, Woods gave composer David Little (above) and librettist Royce Vavrek their first commission. Little is a former avant-rock drummer who electrified the opera world three months ago with Dog Days, which featured celebrated performance artist John Kelly directed by Robert Woodruff (top photo shows Lauren Worsham and Kelly as the ‘dog,’ Prince). It premiered at Montclair State University in New Jersey, yet it still made the year-end top 10 opera lists in The New York Times and the Philadelphia Inquirer. So Fort Worth Opera gave Little his first full-length opera commission — when Dog Days was still just a work-in-progress.

The surprising news is that Dog Days will also be coming to Fort Worth as a regional premiere, possibly in 2015 — making Fort Worth Opera the first company to feature two of the works by the Little/Vavrek team.  That’s because Woods is keen on giving strong, new operas their second or third production as soon as possible. Part of the Opera of the Americas project is accelerating the process that gets new works accepted and validated by other companies. Opera companies “all plan four or five years in advance,” Woods says, and that time lag can allow interest and momentum to fade. “I think a piece needs to get into the repertoire faster.”

Dog Days is a chamber opera set in a post-apocalyptic America where a family struggles against starvation. One character has given up on being human, he dresses as a dog. The young daughter warns him when her father comes back, he’ll kill him and eat him.

You should get out of here.

Dad’ll be back soon

His hunting never lasts long

He gets frustrated, discouraged.

Get out of here! You’re asking for it!

Wood says, “It was raw and it was tough. And it was so beautiful. Boy, it was one of those rare things where you said, ‘I am so incredibly happy that I came to see this.’ But I did need to go to a bar right after that, he adds, laughing. “I needed a martini really quickly.”

Finally, Fort Worth Opera’s second regional premiere will be Silent Night next season — in a co-production with the Opera Company of Philadelphia and Minnesota Opera, where the work debuted. It’s another case of a quick-response, follow-up production by Woods — postponing A Wrinkle in Time from 2014 to 2015 opened up a slot for the show. And composer Kevin Puts’ opera won the Pulitzer Prize for music — just last year.

The opera is based on the French film Joyeux Noel, which in turn was inspired by the so-called Christmas Truce during World War I. On Christmas Eve, 1914, on their own, German, French and Scottish soldiers of the British Army put down their weapons. They went into No Man’s Land to exchange food and sing carols.

Woods says Silent Night has some of the most beautiful choral writing he’s ever heard. Below is the video for the gorgeous chorus number, “Sleep,” followed by the Fort Worth Opera’s full press release.


January 7, 2013

Re-Defining the Opera Experience:

Fort Worth Opera Announces Opera of the Americas, A Ten-Year Vision of Thought-Provoking Premieres by Composers of the Americas

2014-2016 Festivals to include Three World Premieres, Company’s Second Commissioned Work, and Pulitzer-Prize Winning Regional Premiere

Fort Worth, Texas – Fort Worth Opera (FWOpera) announced today Opera of the Americas, a ten-year artistic commitment to the production of work from contemporary composers of the Americas, beginning in 2014. The first phase of Opera of the Americas will feature three world premieres and one national co-production, leading up to the company’s 70th anniversary in 2016. These productions reinforce FWOpera’s dedication to introducing new works and championing North and South American contemporary composers, as well as underscoring its vision of the art form.

“Fort Worth Opera strongly believes that the modern operatic experience is one that has both a subjective and objective component, whether it be a contemporary or traditional work,” stated FWOpera General Director Darren K. Woods. “It’s more than just entertainment; it’s a shared experience that engages, provokes, and inspires conversation. In presenting compelling contemporary works by accomplished American composers, and fresh productions of traditional operatic repertoire, we look to re-define opera as an exciting experience that, at its core, has a unique, personal connection for our audiences. We look carefully at the heart of each work, for a storyline or a message that will resonate on an intimate, individual level, evoking an emotional response and need for reflection. I am thrilled to announce that in addition to the world premieres by Libby Larsen and Daniel Crozier in the next upcoming seasons, Fort Worth Opera will present a regional premiere and a world premiere company commission by composer David T. Little, and the regional premiere of composer Kevin Puts’ first opera.”

Inspirational characters who challenge the status quo, risking everything for what they believe in, and story lines that motivate conversation are the connecting thread in the upcoming productions, which have story arcs ranging from issues related to family life and modern day warfare, to science fiction and iconic historical figures.

In 2014, FWOpera proudly presents the first in the series of world premieres with the first professional production of the award-winning opera With Blood, With Ink, by composer Daniel Crozier and librettist Peter M. Krask. Announced this past summer, the opera is based on the true story of 17th-century Mexican nun Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz, a renowned intellectual, poet, theologian, and champion of women’s rights who was forced by the Inquisition to sign an oath in blood renouncing her life’s work. With Blood, With Ink will feature costume designs by American celebrity fashion designer Austin Scarlett, acclaimed for his collaborations with artists such as Shein Wei and Parson’s Dance Company, who is also known for his appearances on the fashion design competition reality TV show Project Runway, and sets by renowned set designer Erhard Rom. “This piece movedme deeply upon hearing it and I immediately wanted to produce it. The story of Sor Juana is a well-known one among our large Hispanic population and it seemed perfect for our community,” said Mr. Woods when asked why he selected this piece. “It is an excellent example of the versatility of contemporary opera. Its music is soaring and beautiful and still delivers the same dramatic punch as the atonal music typically associated with these new works.”

Presented alongside With Blood, With Ink will be the regional premiere of composer Kevin Puts’ 2012 Pulitzer-Prize winning opera, Silent Night, in co-production with Minnesota Opera and the Opera Company of Philadelphia. The piece is based on the 2005 French film Joyeux Noel, about the legendary World War I 1914 Christmas Eve cease-fire/truce between French, German and Scottish forces. The opera appropriately follows the upcoming 2013 Festival production of Tom Cipullo’s Glory Denied, the tragic, true story of America’s longest-held Vietnam prisoner of war based on the bestselling book by journalist Tom Philpott.

In announcing Silent Night, Mr. Woods stated, “Silent Night, composer Kevin Puts’ and librettist Mark Campbell’s powerful opera, is another example of the work Fort Worth Opera is passionate about – a thought-provoking, question-raising piece that introduces accessible, human characters. When the opportunity to produce this work was recently presented to us, we were happy to jump on board. Libby Larson was amenable to moving her work to the 2015 season, allowing her the luxury of additional time to add final touches to her new opera — something of a rarity for composers.”

Silent Night will be presented in the 2014 Festival slot announced last spring for the world premiere of A Wrinkle in Time by composer Libby Larsen and librettist Bradley Greenwald. A Wrinkle in Time, a full-length mainstage opera based on the enormously popular 1962 Madeleine L’Engle landmark, award-winning novel of the same name, will receive its premiere in the 2015 season. The story is about a teenage girl, her younger brother, and their search for their father, a government scientist who went missing while working on a top-secret project. The work illuminates the eternal battle of good vs. evil and the struggle of conformity vs. non-conformity. A Wrinkle in Time has loose roots in Larsen’s original one-act children’s opera commissioned by Opera Delaware in 1991 for elementary school groups.

As testimony to Fort Worth Opera’s ten-year artistic commitment to the support of American composers and librettists, the company has committed to bringing not one, but two works by one of opera’s most talked about creative pairs—composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek. Dog Days, in co-presentation with Beth Morrison Projects, will make its regional premiere within the first three years of Opera of the Americas. Dog Days is the heart wrenching tale of an apocalyptic wartime world and a family facing starvation trapped inside this new reality. The opera is based on a short story of the same name by Judy Budnitz. Dog Days is told from the perspective of the opera’s central character 13-year old Lisa.
Since its premiere in New Jersey with Peak Performances and Beth Morrison Projects in September 2012, the opera has received much attention for the way its “taut libretto and varied, original music deliver its grim story like a punch to the stomach” (Wall Street Journal), with The New York Times describing it as a “nuanced work that clawed beneath the surface of every situation.”

Woods stated “Composer David T. Little, with his background as a rock drummer and penchant for highly theatrical works, is a composer who thinks outside the box. Dog Days is powerful and beautifully devastating. It is a work that has stayed with me musically, dramatically, and aesthetically since the minute I saw it. David T. Little and Royce Vavrek have created a story that captivates and consumes you from its earliest moments—it forces you to ponder ideas such as choice and consequence and even aspects of your own humanity in a striking and profoundly raw way. Like any piece of great art, it inspires an honest and emotional dialogue – something Fort Worth Opera strives to achieve with each production.”

The first phase of Fort Worth Opera’s 10-year plan culminates during the company’s 70th anniversary in 2016 with the world premiere of FWOpera’s second commissioned opera and the second work FWOpera will produce by composer David T. Little and librettist Royce Vavrek, JFK (working title).

“We are excited to have commissioned David and Royce to create the final work in our three-years of world premieres, and for our 70th anniversary season. Reflecting a significant moment in American history, JFK will tell the story of the lives and relationships of those connected to the 35th President of the United States with a focus on their moments in Fort Worth the morning before his fateful trip to Dallas. This is not only a part of our country’s history, but our local history; and it had not only a global and national impact, but is extremely significant to our community as well. William V. Madison, the classical music journalist whose professional career included working as assistant to esteemed CBS broadcast journalist Dan Rather, is also a crucial member of the team, having spent hours researching and interviewing living witnesses from Fort Worth, including the cameraman from that tragic day. He has been instrumental in providing details to David and Royce and laying the groundwork for this historic piece.”

The full cast and creative team for the above operas, as well as performance dates, and other details, will be announced at a future date. Full biographies of the composers and librettists, as well as artwork for each work, are available at www.fwopera.com/Press. Details about the other works on each season and those specifically part of Opera of the Americas will also be announced in future.
ABOUT FORT WORTH OPERA: Founded in 1946, Fort Worth Opera is the oldest continually performing opera company in Texas, and one of the 14 oldest opera companies in the United States. Under the leadership of General Director Darren K. Woods since 2001, the organization has gained national attention from critics and audiences alike for its artistic quality and willingness to take risks. Known throughout the operatic world as a champion of new and rarely-performed works, the company has taken a leadership role in producing contemporary operas. In 2007, when the company changed its fall/winter schedule to a condensed one-month long Festival in the spring, FWOpera staged its first world premiere, Frau Margot; and followed up the next season with Angels in America (which resulted in More Life: the Art and Science of AIDS, a community-wide collaboration amongst organizations in the performing and visual arts, children’s education, medicine, and social services), Dead Man Walking in 2009, the world premiere of Before Night Falls in 2010, and Hydrogen Jukebox in 2011. The 2012 Festival staged the regional premieres of Mark Adamo’s Lysistrata and Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers, the first time the two composers’ works were co-programmed. The company’s CD recordings of Frau Margot and Before Night Falls are available on the Albany label.

Fort Worth Opera’s 2013 Festival season (April 20–May 12, 2013)

La Bohème (April 20, 28m, May 3, 11, 2013) – Puccini’s tragic drama of young love, (which Rent is loosely based upon), featuring renowned soprano Mary Dunleavy and up-and-coming Sri Lankan tenor Sean Panikkar in their company debuts as the ill-fated Mimì and her smitten poet Rodolfo; Puerto Rican soprano Rosa Betancourt, a FWOpera Studio alumna, as the saucy Musetta, and baritone Wes Mason as her jealous beau, the struggling painter Marcello. FWOpera Music Director Joe Illick conducts, with direction by David Lefkowich, who made his company debut with FWOpera’s critically acclaimed Il Trovatore in 2011.

The Daughter of the Regiment (April 27, May 5m, and 10, 2013)- Donizetti’s spirited switched-at-birth romantic comedy, featuring Texas soprano Ava Pine (Lysistrata, 2012), in the title role of Marie, and tenor David Portillo as her love interest, Tonio, (Don Giovanni, 2010). Bass-baritone Rod Nelman (Tosca and The Marriage of Figaro, 2012), sings Sergeant Sulpice, head of the 21st regiment. Renowned character mezzo-soprano Joyce Castle (The Turn of the Screw, 2003), returns as the Marquise of Berkenfeld, and FWOpera General Director and retired character tenor Darren K. Wood makes his company debut as the hapless butler Hortensius. Conductor Christopher Larkin (Three Decembers, 2012) conducts, with direction by Broadway and Hollywood veteran Dorothy Danner (Pirates of Penzance, 2004), a frequent conductor-director team who have led Daughter to great acclaim and laughter across the U.S.

Glory Denied (April 21m, 23, 24, 27m, 30; May 1, 4m, 7, 8, and 11m, 2013 – regional premiere) – American composer Tom Cipullo’s emotion-packed, landmark work based on the bestselling book by journalist Tom Philpott, of the tragic, true story of America’s longest-held Vietnam prisoner-of-war, Colonel Jim Thompson. Featuring Texas baritone Michael Mayes (Lysistrata, 2012) in role debut as Older Thompson; Caroline Worra in company debut reprising the role of Older Alyce; tenor David Blalock in company debut as the Young Thompson; soprano Sydney Mancasola in company debut as Young Alyce. Tyson Deaton, a longtime FWOpera pianist and in-demand collaborative recitalist, makes his company conducting debut. Also on the team are Dean Anthony, a former character tenor turned director directs; set designer Richard Kagey (Lysistrata, 2012), and Emmy Award-winning costume designer Stephen Chudej.

Ariadne auf Naxos May 4, 12m, 2013) – FWOpera’s first-ever production of Strauss’ entertaining and comedic opera-within-an-opera. Featuring soprano Marjorie Owens (Il Trovatore, 2011), as the Prima Donna, whose character Ariadne is wooed by the Greek god Bacchus, sung by tenor Corey Bix in his company debut; soprano Audrey Luna makes her company debut as Zerbinetta, and mezzo-soprano Cecelia Hall makes her company debut singing the pants role of the Composer. FWOpera Music Director Joe Illick conducts, and frequent FWOpera presence David Gately (Lysistrata, 2012) directs.

Frontiers, FWOpera’s, annual new works program, makes its debut during the 2013 Festival. The showcase will present eight unpublished works by composers from the Americas during May 6 – 11 of the 2013 Opera Festival in the McDavid Studio across from Bass Hall in downtown Fort Worth http://www.fwopera.org/Frontiers/

Please note that the company’s 67th season and seventh festival is one month earlier than previous seasons as it moves to its new time. For more information, please visit www.fwopera.org or call 817.731.0726 or toll-free at 1.877.396.7372.

ABOUT FORT WORTH: Fort Worth boasts a unique mix of western culture, urban sophistication, and fine art. The city is home to world-renowned arts organizations such as the Kimbell Art Museum, the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, the Amon Carter Museum, and the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. On the other end of the spectrum, the city sponsors daily cattle drives through its Stockyards district, hosts equestrian and livestock events throughout the year, and is home to the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Downtown Fort Worth is a lively spot for residents and tourists; attractions include fine dining, shopping, night life, and the opera house, the acclaimed Bass Performance Hall.
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