(Princeton, NJ) The Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts and the Department of Music present The Princeton One-Act Opera Project, an evening of three original one-act operas on Friday and Saturday, March 30 and 31 at 8:00 p.m. in the Roger S. Berlind Theatre at McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton. The unique new works, each redefining what opera might be, are by composer Anthony Davis with playwright Allan Havis, composer and librettist and Princeton University Professor Barbara White with choreographer Kate Weare, and Princeton undergraduates James Chu ’13 (composer) and Lily Akerman ’13 (librettist). The disparate operas are unified by the vision of director Mark DeChiazza with Princeton’s Michael Pratt conducting. Sopranos Susan Narucki and Sarah Davis will be featured, and the casts include a range of professional singers and musicians and undergraduate student performers. Both performances will be preceded by a conversation with the artists, moderated by Atelier Director and Princeton Professor of Theater, Stacy Wolf, from 7:15-7:45 p.m. in the Berlind Theatre.
Composed by Davis with a libretto by Havis, Lear on the 2nd Floor is a contemporary take on Shakespeare’s King Lear. Grammy award-winning soprano Susan Narucki portrays Nora Lear, a prominent neuroscience researcher beset with early onset Alzheimer’s. As Nora loses her bearings and her autonomy, she is increasingly at the mercy of her three quarreling daughters. Nora’s dead husband Mortimer is Shakespeare’s fool in this version and is her constant companion as she walks through a world where the past and present blend and reality bends. Davis’s arrangement and instrumentation reflect diverse influences ranging from classical opera to jazz to reggae.
Opera News has called Anthony Davis a “National Treasure” for his pioneering work in opera. In his operas X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, Tania, and Wakonda's Dream, Davis provides a political and social critique of America with music that embraces a spectrum of influences from Wagner and Berg to Ellington and Mingus to the Indonesian gamelan and South Indian ragas. Davis also composed the music for the Broadway production of Tony Kushner's Angels in America: Millennium Approaches and Perestroika. He is a Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego.
Over three decades, Allan Havis has had his plays produced at and commissioned by theatres across the country and in Europe. His fifteen full length published plays include Morocco and The Tutor, which received San Diego’s 2008 Patté Best Play award. Since 2006, Havis has been Provost of Thurgood Marshall College at the University of California, San Diego.
Weakness is a retelling of a Celtic myth, with music and a libretto by Barbara White and choreography by Kate Weare. Depicting a spirit from the Otherworld who assumes human form and experiences the pleasures and dangers of embodiment, soprano Sarah Davis shares the stage with two dancers from Weare’s company and an instrumental ensemble including bamboo flute and electric guitar. Weakness explores the overwhelming power of the voice and the intelligence of the body, posing questions about how one might use these gifts to antagonize one another or to join together with compassion and understanding.
Composer Barbara White has received honors from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Koussevitzky Foundation, as well as three awards from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, which describes her music as “provocative even when it speaks in undertones, creating a personal space that is as unique as it is inviting.” Recent collaborative works use text, movement, sound, and video to celebrate the performing body, and her fourth CD, a recording of the opera Weakness, is forthcoming from Albany Records. In 1998, White joined the faculty of Princeton University, where she is now Professor of Music.
Kate Weare, Artistic Director of the NY-based Kate Weare Company, has been commissioned by venues such as The Joyce Theater, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Danspace Project and MANCC. Weare won The AWARD Show in 2007, was honored with the Princess Grace Award in 2009, and a Joyce Theater Foundation Fellowship in 2011. Weare is artistic director of Kate Weare Company and has presented her work in such venues as Dance Theater Workshop, Joyce Soho, The 92nd Street Y, New York University, and The Kitchen.
Off Court , the third of the new operas, is a collaboration between undergraduates James Chu ’13, composer, and librettist Lily Akerman ’13. It is set in an exclusive tennis club where the protagonist, Louisa, is ill at ease in the upper-class enclave. She finds the club filled with pointless chatter, fancy cocktails, and idle tennis matches, but her socially ambitious husband, Henry, craves this atmosphere. Louisa’s emotions and inner conflicts play out in Chu and Akerman’s opera.
Music major James Chu is a clarinetist who studied composition at the Royal College of Music in London. After graduating from Princeton, James plans to continue his composition studies at conservatory. Lily Akerman is a Comparative Literature major pursuing a certificate in Theater who has performed in numerous dance and theater pieces and has also choreographed.
DeChiazza, who directs the evening of operas, works across multiple disciplines as a director and video designer. He collaborated with composer, 2012 Grammy award-winner, and Princeton University professor Steve Mackey, creating the staging and films for It Is Time, a Carnegie Hall commission for SO Percussion. DeChiazza’s 2009 dance-theater staging of Pierrot Lunaire with eighth blackbird continues to tour and will perform at the Kennedy Center this April.
Pratt, conductor of the Princeton University Orchestra and director of the Program in Musical Performance, now in his 35th year at the university, will conduct the three ensembles. Designers Jane Cox (lighting), Rachel Hauck (sets), Marion Williams (costumes), collaborate on all three chamber works.
The Princeton One-Act Opera Project is the culmination of extensive collaboration between the Lewis Center for the Arts and Davis and Havis and White and Weare. As well, it marks the end of three years of interdisciplinary, co-taught courses offered through the Department of Music and the Princeton Atelier. Funded in part by a gift from the Seaver Family Foundation to support the development of new music theater performance, The Princeton One-Act Opera Project is the fruit of a uniquely interdisciplinary experiment. Here, the university can provide research and development opportunities to professionals, can nurture the creative work of undergraduates, and can provide students with the opportunity to work side by side with professional composers, librettists, singers and musicians.
Tickets for the One Act Opera Project are $15 general admission and $10 for students and seniors, and may be ordered by calling the McCarter box office at 609.258.2787 or on-line, or through Princeton University Ticket Office by calling 609.258.9220, on-line, or at any of the campus ticket offices.
The Princeton Atelier was endowed in 2009 through the generosity of a donor who has chosen to remain anonymous. The Atelier is additionally supported through The Newhouse Foundation, The Erik C. Blachford '89 Fund, The Schare-Pfaffenroth Endowment Fund, The Jordan Roth '97 Performance Fund and The Peter T. Joseph Foundation.