The News from Poems, a large-scale opera about American doctor/poet William Carlos Williams, will have a staged reading of the first half of the opera by Center for Contemporary Opera in 2013. I had started this opera many years ago, first researching Williams and then, at the MacDowell Colony in 2008, starting the libretto. Work was interrupted to write The Giver and I resumed composing the score in June 2012. I am very pleased to have won a spot in the CCO 2013 readings festival here in New York, not least because it provided me with a real dead-line: The News from Poems is the first opera I’ve undertake without a commission, ergo without any deadlines. Thank you, Center for Contemporary Opera!
Why Dr. Williams?
I began to read Williams’ poetry in 2004 when I was commissioned by the Grammy-award-winning Kansas City Chorale to compose a choral cycle for them. I chose six short imagist poems for the cycle and found I loved setting Williams’ language. For my song cycle Five Movements for my Father, I went back to Williams again for three of the five movements. Along the way I learned more about the man (difficult, passionate and many-sided, to say the least) and his moment. The three principal roles are Williams, his wife Flossie and Ezra Pound (another difficult character.) Here is my introduction to the libretto:
“William Carlos Williams, though a divisive character in American letters, is generally acknowledged to be the father of twentieth century American poetry. He was also, starting in 1905 and for over fifty years, a family doctor eventually specializing in pediatrics and obstetrics.
Dr. Williams was sure about two things – both new and questionable ideas in his time:
–A poet could be a poet in and about America
–American needs its poets desperately, as he wrote:
“It is difficult
to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day
of what is found there.”
It is this last certitude, which WCW’s whole writing life embodies, that casts its resonance over the opera.”
A Garden’s Time Piece
I was treated to a magical performance of this piece for violin and soprano at a concert in Scarsdale, N.Y. in March. Jacob Ashworth (full disclosure: my son) and sparkling soprano Jessica Petrus performed it just the way it wants to be done: like two people being one people. The nicest thing a composer can hear after a concert is “I wish I could hear that again.” You can hear excerpts on the piece’s work page. Thank you both, Jacob and Jessica!
She Never Lost a Passenger
This short opera about Harriet Tubman had its debut as a mainstage offering at Amarillo Opera in February. It was a decided success, according to David O’Dell, artistic director; in addition to its regular performances, its two day-time performances were attended by 2700 schoolchildren. I was especially happy to hear that tenor Nathan Grannar, who in 1996 originated the dual role of William Still, black abolitionist/John, the runaway slave, sang the same role in Amarillo. Over the years, this opera has been done all over the country, usually by members of a company’s young artists program. I am proud to relate that another very exciting veteran of this role is the magnificent Russell Thomas, Metropolitan Opera regular and rising international star, who, as a young artist, sang the role for Shreveport Opera.
One False Move
Having been produced in opera companies, universities, schools and choruses all over this country and by Capetown Opera, S. A., (it was so successful they did it again six months later,) this short opera about bullying has just been granted grand rights for a production in Guangzhou, China at the Utahloy International School next fall.