Phyllis Cohen Stevens
Deputy Director of News Services
QUEENS COLLEGE DEPT. OF DRAMA, THEATRE & DANCE
AND AARON COPLAND SCHOOL OF MUSIC PRESENT
THE NEW YORK PREMIERE OF ORPHEUS DESCENDING
March 23-26 & 28, 2006 at Queens College
-- Opera Based on Play by Tennessee Williams
Features Music by Composer Bruce Saylor and Libretto by Poet J.D. McClatchy --
FLUSHING, NY, February 21, 2006 -- Orpheus Descending had its world premiere in 1994 at the Lyric Opera in Chicago to universal critical acclaim. With music by award-winning composer Bruce Saylor and libretto by prize-winning poet J.D. McClatchy, Tennessee Williams’ troubled play had finally triumphed on the stage as an opera in two acts. Not performed since then, the opera with the distinctly American voice will soon have its New York premiere in a co-presentation of the Queens College Department of Drama, Theatre & Dance and the Aaron Copland School of Music. Orpheus Descending will be performed in the Susan Wallack Goldstein Theatre at Queens College on the following dates and times:
Thursday, March 23, 7 pm (preview)
Friday, March 24, 8 pm
Saturday, March 25, 8 pm
Sunday, March 26, 3 pm
Tuesday, March 28, 10 am
Composer Bruce Saylor, Professor of Music at Queens College, first encountered Orpheus Descending in the 1991 Broadway revival starring Vanessa Redgrave as the wife of a storeowner and Kevin Anderson as the drifter who fall in love amid the repression and racism of a small Southern town in the 1950s. On their way home from the theater, Saylor’s wife, mezzo-soprano Constance Beavon, observed that Orpheus, a tragedy of love, sex and violence, would make a wonderful opera. Saylor and his good friend, the distinguished author and poet J. D. McClatchy, agreed and decided to collaborate.
One of their greatest obstacles was receiving the rights to adapt the play. Williams’ will had specified that not one word of his work could be changed. To obtain the rights, Saylor and McClatchy had to swear to be faithful to the playwright’s original text. They accomplished this, even while condensing the three-hour play to 95 minutes. “Maria St. Just, who directed the literary estate, not only approved but was enthusiastic,” says McClatchy. The two artists’ dogged pursuit of rights to Orpheus ushered in a new operatic focus on Williams’ work, paving the way for André Previn’s operatic treatment of A Streetcar Named Desire.
The critics were also enthusiastic about the new treatment of Williams’ play. “Not one note in the densely woven orchestration or vocal line seemed to be superfluous,” wrote the Chicago Sun-Times critic of the Orpheus Descending debut. “The dark often brooding music suited its subject perfectly.”
In Saylor’s view, streamlining the play for opera “retains the beauty of Williams’ prose-poetry without the prolixity . . . the imagery is sharpened a bit and Williams’ leitmotifs are worked through in perhaps an even more pungent way.” Says McClatchy: “We unstitched the play and stitched it back to make it move more quickly and forcefully towards its tragic conclusion. The play is gothic but has mythic underpinnings, so it works on many levels.”
J.D. McClatchy is the author of five collections of poems (his book Hazmat was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize). Currently Professor of English at Yale University, he also serves as editor of The Yale Review. The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters describes McClatchy as “a master. . . . It may be that no more eloquent poet will emerge in his American generation." The poet also has an increasingly prominent role in the opera house. In 2006 alone, Ned Rorem’s Our Town, Lowell Liebermann’s Miss Lonelyhearts, and Elliot Goldenthal’s Grendel—all with librettos by McClatchy—are being performed. McClatchy and Saylor first met in 1976, when McClatchy commissioned the composer to set James Merrill’s poem, “Swimming by Night,” to music as a gift for Merrill’s 50th birthday.
In addition to Orpheus, Bruce Saylor has written the operas The Scrimshaw Violin; My Kinsman, Major Molineux; It Had Wings; and is now at work on The Image Maker, the verse play by James Merrill. His orchestra and chamber music has been heard in the U.S., Europe, and Asia, and his oratorios and choral pieces have been written for state occasions, including the second inauguration of President Clinton. Saylor has received more than 40 awards in composition, including the Guggenheim, Mellon, NEA, and Fulbright fellowships.
Orpheus Descending is directed by Susan Einhorn, chair of the Queens College Department of Drama, Theatre & Dance, who has directed 50 productions in her 20-year career and worked with major theater companies in New York and other cities. Its music is under the baton of Maurice Peress, professor in the Aaron Copland School of Music; former assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic; frequent guest conductor in the U.S. and Europe, and a recording artist on Columbia, RCA, Warner, and other major labels. Guest artists Juliana Rambaldi and Victor Benedetti are reprising their Lyric Opera roles as the star-crossed lovers Lady and Val. The cast also includes recent Queens College Music School alumni forging their careers in the world of opera; current students enrolled in the college’s master’s program in music (many are professional actors/singers); as well as an adjunct faculty member and student from the Department of Drama, Theatre & Dance. The set designer is Troy Hourie. All design elements have been newly created for this production.
Attention, Media: For more information, images, reviews, or to set up a phone interview, please contact Patricia Price (Colden Center) at 718-997-2785 or Phyllis Cohen Stevens (Queens College News Services) at 718-997-5597.
Tickets for Orpheus Descending are available at $18 (no discount) on Thursday, March 23 at 7 pm (preview); $20 on Friday, March 24 at 8 pm; $22 on Saturday, March 25 at 8 pm; $20 on Sunday, March 26 at 3 pm and on Tuesday, March 28 at 10 am. Discount: $2 off ticket price for seniors except on March 23. Orders may be placed by phone at 718-793-8080 or at the Colden Center Box Office. Tickets are also available at the Goldstein Box Office one hour before each performance.
The Susan Wallack Goldstein Theatre is located on the Queens College campus between exits 23 & 24 of the eastbound service road of the L.I.E. in Flushing. Free parking is available. For public transportation information, visit: http://www.qc.cuny.edu/about/directions.php
The Goldstein Theatre is wheelchair accessible and has facilities for the hearing impaired.