Theodore Morrison marks his first collaboration with The Santa Fe Opera and Opera Philadelphia with Oscar, an opera in two acts based on the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde. Jointly commissioned by both companies, Oscar will receive its world premiere at The Santa Fe Opera during the summer season of 2013, and its East Coast premiere by Opera Philadelphia in the Academy of Music in February 2015. There will be four additional performances in both locations, and both will star renowned countertenor David Daniels in the title role. The libretto is co-authored by John Cox and the composer.
Morrison says of John Cox, "As one of our great stage directors, John is as exciting an inventor of language for opera as I can imagine. Since my work as composer and conductor had focused primarily on concert music, for the opera I needed to work with a collaborator who would also become my rigorous and exacting mentor in the area of stagecraft. For several years John and I consulted nearly fifty books by and about Oscar Wilde and created a libretto that is based on Wilde's own writings and those of his contemporaries, especially the ones we have placed as principal characters in the opera: Wilde's friends and advocates Ada Leverson and Frank Harris, and Walt Whitman who fulfills the function of a Shakespearean Chorus speaking from Immortality. The story is intense but illuminated by shafts of grim humor.
"As part of our research, John communicated with his friend Merlin Holland, grandson of Oscar Wilde and one of the important contemporary scholars of Wilde. We wanted to create a stage work that presents a fresh and provocative take on the subject. Most accounts of the fall of Oscar Wilde present him as victim. We embrace him as hero. Ours is a serious opera, but filled with delightful witticisms of Wilde, Leverson and Harris. The connective tissue is ours."
In addition to David Daniels in the title role, principal roles in the world premiere at The Santa Fe Opera will be created by soprano Heidi Stober as Ada Leverson, tenor William Burden as Frank Harris, baritone Dwayne Croft as Walt Whitman, and bass Kevin Burdette in two roles: as Mr Justice Sir Alfred Wills (Act I), and the infamous Governor of Reading Gaol, Henry B. Isaacson (Act II.) The production is to be directed by Kevin Newbury, with choreography by Seán Curran. The design team includes David Korins (scenic), David Woolard (costume), and Rick Fisher (lighting). Evan Rogister will conduct.
A silent role for Oscar's great love, Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie), is to be portrayed by a dancer, Reed Luplau, who will sometimes be masked to represent other characters in Oscar's imagination and delirium: a waiter in a French café, the prison physician, an executioner, and Death. Wilde famously wrote, "Give a man a mask and he will tell you the truth."
Oscar was one of five operas chosen by an independent panel for the New Works Sampler at Opera America's 2012 National Conference in Philadelphia. A scene from Oscar was presented in this new opera showcase on the opening night of the conference at Lenfest Hall, Curtis Institute of Music.
Opera America commissioned Morrison to compose a song for inclusion in the Opera America Songbook celebrating the opening of their National Opera Center in September 2012. The song is a setting for soprano and piano of the first of Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus in Stephen Mitchell's wonderful English translation. It was recorded by soprano Elizabeth Futral.
The Yale Glee Club has commissioned Morrison to compose a choral work for the 2013-2014 academic year on a text by William Butler Yeats. The Yale Glee Club will perform the new piece on its tour of Cuba in the spring of 2014.
I am hoping that Oscar will be the highlight of my career. I have always said that new music is going to be essential for the evolution of the countertenor voice to continue and to have staying power. This opera answers that imperative with a strong, appealing character and wonderfully compelling music.
Theo writes so beautifully for the countertenor. He crafts the perfect partnership of voice and orchestra. Because the libretto that John and Theo created shows Wilde's incredible wit as well as the torture and humiliation he endured, the vocal writing ranges from lyrical arias to jagged expressions of torment. This gives it great variety and makes it so gratifying to sing. I believe our audiences will love it.
- David Daniels