The Grapes of Wrath. Ricky Ian Gordon. Michael Korie. Elizabeth Futral.
The Dresser had the good fortune to catch a showcase of songs from The Grapes of Wrath, a new opera based on John Steinbeck's novel by the same name. The opera by composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Michael Korie receives its world premiere by the Minnesota Opera on February 10, 2007. The music and words are accessible and inflected with the regionalism of its Oklahoma setting.
The showcase, which also included a discussion with the creating artists and moderated by Brian Kellow (he writes for Opera News), took place in New York City December 8, 2006 at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center. By chance, the Dresser found out about this program through Nancy Rhodes, the artistic director of Encompass New Opera Theatre. Rhodes collaborated with Gordon on Only Heaven, a song cycle based on the poetry of Langston Hughes and then she produced the work through Encompass in 2001.
The Dresser attended that production and ever since has been a fan of Gordon's music.
In the early 1990s, the Dresser met Michael Korie at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts where they had the occasion to celebrate Passover together. Korie is best known for his libretto for Harvey Milk, an opera scored by Stewart Wallace and co-commissioned by the San Francisco and Houston Grand opera companies.
More recently Korie is enjoying a successful collaboration with Doug Wright (book) and Scott Frankel (music) on Grey Gardens, a musical about the eccentric aunt and cousin of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.
Dale Johnson of the Minnesota Opera asked Gordon to consider writing the music for The Grapes of Wrath. Gordon, who had never read Steinbeck's masterpiece, said he would think it over and took the book on a trip to California. Apparently representatives of the Steinbeck estate had followed Ricky Ian Gordon around for two years to experience his music. When Gordon decided to accept the commission for this large and important work, Eric Simonson of the Utah Opera, a co-commissioning partner, said how about collaborating with a poet. However, Gordon wanted someone who knew theater well and so he asked Michael Korie.
Because the story of Wrath is so sprawling, someone suggested to the two collaborators that the opera be a two-night work. Korie said the novel has a recognizable skeleton and had no desire to write this opera in two parts. "How would we end part I? Leave the family in the desert?" Korie quipped.
What was particularly interesting about the showcase was that soprano Elizabeth Futral participated. Not only is Futral a rising star in the world of opera, but also earlier that day, the Dresser saw her perform in the rehearsal of The First Emperor at the Met. Futral plays the Emperor's daughter. Other guest performers included tenor Theodore Chletsos, baritone Brian Leerhuber, baritone John Michael Moore, mezzo-soprano Mary Phillips, and pianist Tim Long. The Dresser also wants to recognize what an accommodating space was made for this showcase at the LGBT Center. She imagines this grand hall with an operating bar is used for gala parties, but in this case a temporary stage was erected and chair set up in three sides making room for a large audience but also giving a sense of intimacy.
Upcoming premieres of The Grapes of Wrath include:
Minnesota Opera, February 10-18, 2007
Utah Opera, May 12-20, 2007
Houston Grand Opera, 2008 season
Pittsburgh Opera, 2008 season