Thursday, April 05, 2012

Rights Readers Goes to the Opera

I discovered recently that the Lyric Opera of Chicago plans a 2015 world premier opera based on Ann Patchett's novel (about an opera singer), Bel Canto. Peruvian-born composer Jimmy Lopez has been assigned the score and Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Nilo Cruz will pen the libretto, with soprano Renee Fleming as creative consultant. Although the book seems an obvious choice for stage treatment, the Chicago Reader notes a formidable barrier,
The story, about a group of trapped hostages and their captors, all speaking different languages and communicating through an interpreter, is a dramatist's nightmare. Cruz says he "immediately connected" with the material of the novel, but is wrestling with the fact that "we have to be cautious or the translator will be the main character."
We'll keep an eye on this.

Meanwhile, this got me to wondering just how many books we have read that have subsequently been turned into operas. When you stop and think about it, there is a lot of drama in the struggle for human rights, with plenty of  bloody action, soulful martyrs, and just general outrageousness that opera requires.

Probably the most famous book-to-opera we've encountered would be Dead Man Walking, based on Helen Prejean's death row memoir, which has been successfully produced by a number of opera companies. Sister Helen wrote on her blog recently,
I was just in Tulsa, Oklahoma, giving talks and media interviews for the opera of Dead Man Walking, which opens on February 25, performed by the Tulsa Opera. I got to meet the entire cast, including the 12 or so children, whose piping young voices inject hope.
Immediately after I left, Kirstin Chavez, the mezzo who will portray me (her aria is “My journey…”) got on Facebook with Susan Graham and Joyce DiDonato who have been me in past operas. I heard the Sr Helen Trio had a lively chat, with the two vets offering robust encouragement to Kirstin.
I appreciate opera singers now that I realize how long they prepare, how hard they work, and the stress they feel.
Joyce DiDonato and the Houston Grand Opera will release a recording of a recording Dead Man Walking on April 24. Click here for an xcerpt from the production that includes the children Sister Helen mentions.

Another book we have read that has been transformed for the stage is Reinaldo Arenas' Before Night Falls. Orchestra Miami will present the opera this fall.  The world premier performance of the Jorge Martin score, by the Fort Worth Opera featuring baritone Wes Mason as the dissident Cuban writer, has also been recorded. Here's a sample:



Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran has been given a chamber opera staging.  If Nixon in China is worthy of an opera, Iran does seems a likely setting for a contemporary story. That's why I'm really curious about this Tony Kushner-Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis)-Kronos Quartet collaboration promised for the upcoming PEN World Voices Festival.

What else might be diva worthy? Both Sonia Nazario's Enrique's Journey and Junot Diaz' The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao have received theatrical treatments. But I was thinking our most recent book, The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht would be a good candidate-- they can stage the Lion King right? So a tiger, a bear or a stray elephant can't be that hard. It's got a song-writing, gusla-playing character, multiple generations of tragedy, zany fantasy elements and oh, the 'tiger's wife' is a deaf-mute. Hmm. That could be tough, but I'm sure there are some creative minds out there up to the challenge.

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