After the Storm
Libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann
Originally Directed by Matthew Ozawa
Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera (HGOco)
Premiered in the Cullen Theatre, Houston, May 13th 2016
Instrumentation: String Quintet, 2 clarinets (1 doubling on bass), Horn, Harp, Piano, Percussion; 2 sopranos, 2 mezzos, 1 tenor, 1 baritone
Duration: c. 80 minutes
After the Storm is about the people who don’t run from hurricanes. The opera was inspired by Galveston Island, TX. In 2008, my wife reported from Galveston on residents who had defied the mandatory evacuation of the island as Hurricane Ike approached. Her stories of these people captured my imagination, both in their bravado and in the drama of their predicaments once Ike made a near-direct hit on the town. Of course, Ike was far from the first hurricane to strike Galveston. At the turn of last century, Galveston was one of Texas’s richest cities until the Great Storm of 1900 ravaged the city, killing at least 6,000 people in what remains the U.S. deadliest natural disaster ever. Galveston remains today a vibrant but haunted place, haunted both by past catastrophes and the specter of the big one yet to come.
After the Storm’s story starts in the near future as another major storm makes it way towards Galveston. Eliza Goodman is preparing to break with a century of family tradition by fleeing her family home to take refuge with her daughter who lives inland. But at the moment when she must leave, she can’t do it. Instead, her mind is cast back into a dreamscape where memories of riding out the last cataclysmic hurricane mingle with the ghostly voices of her ancestors from the Great Storm of 1900. In Eliza's struggles to survive her ordeals and find her place within her family’s legacy, After the Storm explores the power that roots us to our homes even as destruction rolls ever nearer.
Past the Checkpoints
Libretto by Joann Farias
Originally Directed by Loren Meeker
Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera (HGOco)
Premiered in Talento Billingue, Houston, February 15th 2013
Instrumentation: String Trio, Electric Guitar, Trumpet, Keyboard (Original version for Electric Guitar, Trumpet, Keyboard only); 1-2 Sopranos, Mezzo, Tenor, 1-2 Baritones, 1-2 Bass Baritones (depending on double casting)
Duration: c. 50 minutes
Past the Checkpoints is based on the real-life experiences of David Moreno, who came to Texas on a tourist visa when he was 5 years old and grew up undocumented in Rio Grande City. David wanted a normal teenage life. But he had to hide his undocumented status from even his closest friends, and had to avoid any circumstance that could threaten exposure.
Past the Checkpoints begins with Gabriel (our David) about to make the biggest decision of his life. A star trumpet player, he has a chance to get a scholarship to attend Baylor University. But the audition requires Gabriel to venture past the checkpoints that encircle the valley, risking discovery and ruin for him and his family. As he struggles with himself, his parents, and teacher he must decide whether to choose a life in the shadows or risk everything to achieve his dream.
Whatever one’s view on immigration, we all can emphasize with David’s struggle. This opera is for anyone who held a secret tight, anyone torn between ambition and responsibility, and anyone who whose dreams didn’t take them in a straight line.
Libretto by Kathleen Kelly
Originally Directed by Mo Zhou
Commissioned by Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts
Premiered in Wolf Trap, Vienna, VA May 16th 2017
Instrumentation: Flute, Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Piano, Drums; SATB with conductor in a speaking role.
Duration: c. 25 minutes
Listen, WIlhelmina! is a madcap interactive children’s opera. Three Wombats have come to their first concert. One of them, Wilhelmina, is beside herself with excitement, so much so that she can’t stop clapping, singing, or even dancing when she’s supposed to be quiet, much to the horror of the other Wombats, Ranger Nat, and The Very Famous Maestro. Listen, Wilhelmina, through a kaleidoscope of styles, is a celebration of music and all the different ways there are to listen.
Texts adapted and written by Kathleen Kelly.
Commissioned by Kathleen Kelly
Premiered in Jessen Auditorium, August 28th, 2015
Instrumentation: SATB soloists, Piano four hands
Duration: c. 22 minutes
The first time I played the Brahms Liebeslieder, I felt like I was in the best of both the concert and social musical worlds. I happened to be playing them with world-class artists, but the pleasure we took in these pieces made the concert feel like an old fashioned house party where we were making our own entertainment. Ever since, I wanted to write my own Liebeslieder and strike such a balance.
I mentioned this desire to Kathy Kelly as she was exploring the Texas German Dialect Project at UT-Austin. Her description of the archive was bewitching. As Kathy writes, “These interviews with the last surviving native speakers of the Texas Hill Country German dialect reveal rich stories of life before the interstate highway came through, when school and church and daily life still flowed with German cadence and practice…I found myself fascinated by a just-vanished world, absolutely Texan and yet so like the bygone German Minnesota described by my grandmother, a life of dances, music, strong families, and hard farm work.”
The Liebeslieder format jumped out as a perfect vessel for Kathy’s inspired elaborations of the interviews, as well as other texts about German immigration to Texas. We could use the Liebeslieder as a genre that straddles classical and folk traditions, allowing us to evoke both Brahms and raucous beer-soaked accordion solos. The social pleasure of the music mirrors that of the German immigrants. As they brought their polkas and Beethoven to Texas, their piano salons and singing societies, they built communities out of music as much as out of buildings and farms. I hope that for an evening, whether at a concert or Oktoberfest gathering, these songs will do the same.
The Ninth November I Was Hiding
Text from an interview with Hans Stein
Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, HGOco for the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht
Premiered in the Evelyn Rubinstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, November 10th, 2013
Instrumentation: Violin, Cello, Clarinet, Piano, SATB (Bartione soloist)
Duration: c. 22 minutes
The main text of The Ninth November I Was Hiding is from an interview with my grandfather, Hans Stein, who was arrested in Vienna during Kristallnacht and sent to the Dachau concentration camp. His story does not focus on the violence of that night, but rather the maddening anticipation. Everyone knew something terrible was coming, though no one knew what. Families huddled in their apartments, trying to make sense of awful sounds in their streets and buildings, not knowing whether those sounds were a passing clamor or a harbinger of destruction. The piece tries to capture that tension of knowing everything is about to change, but not exactly how or when, as one waits for a knock on the door.
Central to the composition is my great-grandfather’s refusal to leave Vienna as the Nazis took over. It struck me as crucial to understanding Kristallnacht’s tragedy, which destroyed any illusion that a Jew could be safe in Austria. The Ninth November works through what it means for your family (and by extension the Jews, or any ostracized group) to feel love and belonging toward your home as it rejects you. The pain of hearing "This city is not for you. These waltzes are not for you. Your apartment is not for you. You thought we were your friends, your neighbors. We are not."
This struggle is made musical in the way that The Ninth November is built on fragments from the gorgeous Viennese song, "Wien, du Stadt meiner Träume" (Vienna, City of My Dreams.) This quintessentially wistful ode to Vienna could be sung by a Jew intuiting his own exile (“And if I ever I had to go away from this beautiful place, my longing would have no end.") Or the song could represent the grotesque complacency of a Viennese collaborator who sighs over the beauty of his city as Jews are rounded up in the streets. It's hard to tell whether the beauty and sentimentality of Vienna is a thing to be loved or loathed, and whether the delicate haze which “Wien du Stadt” evokes is a dream-like fog or a poisonous cloud.
Poems and Other Sentimental Bullshit
Text by Clementine von Radics
Commissioned by Melody Moore
Premiered in Weill Recital Hall, Carnegie Hall, May 25th 2016
Instrumentation: Soprano, Piano
Duration: 2 min
I first read the text of this song when Melody posted the poem in a Facebook status. Delighted, I wrote the poem down, with the intention of setting it for her as a surprise gift. But in a nice bit of synchronicity, Melody headed me off. Before I started writing, she told me she was commissioning friends to write songs for her Carnegie Hall debut and invited me to set one of Clementine’s poems. I was happy to tell her I already had the text picked out. I was tickled by the poem’s portrayal of affection overwhelming any attempt be cool, and saw in it a miniature portrait of Melody herself: a singer and person so overflowing with love that no vanity or pretense could ever hold it back.
Text by Schola Gbashah
Commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, HGOco
Premiered in Cristo Rey High School, April 13th 2015
Instrumentation: Soprano, Mezzo soprano, 2 optional hand clappers (if singers not performing claps themselves), optional drum set.
The text for this song was a prize winning poem from a young student at Cristo Rey, a Jesuit high school for low incomes students in Houston, borne out of workshops HGOco had led about bullying. The song's ritual quality and handclaps evoke the crazily complex clapping games that girls regularly master together. Here, the game becomes an exorcism, where the two bullied singers reassert their own power through shared music making.
I Should Have
Text by Louisa Miller and David Hanlon
Commissioned by Wolf Trap Opera
Premiered at St. Stephens Church, June 12th, 2016
Insrumentation: Mezzo soprano, bass-baritone, piano
This duet was written for “Hear Lucretia” a companion concert to Wolf Trap Opera’s performances of The Rape of Lucretia, featuring other compositions based on the Lucretia story. The song imagines two of Lucretia’s surviving loved ones frozen in shock, obsessively going over every point in the narrative where they might have changed its outcome.
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