The News from Poems – ensemble chamber opera 2015, 110′

Genius   Ambition

What happens to those in the wake
Of such magnetic, cyclonic energy?

William Carlos Williams, his wife, Flossie, and Ezra Pound

Based on the work and correspondence of William Carlos Williams
Used by permission: New Directions Publishing Corp.

Roles:
William Carlos Williams – lyric baritone, 40 years old and 70 years old
Florence “Flossie” Williams – mezzo soprano, 35 and 65
Ezra Pound – bass baritone, 45 and 75
Tenor Soloist – Italian singer; Italian father; Bob McAlmon; Dr. Billy Williams

Ensemble – 12 SATB, 2 treble boys, 1 girl

The News from Poems is an ensemble opera in the Brechtian tradition: chorus members not only sing multiple small roles and cameos but also move sets, change costume in plain sight, participate invisibly in scenes, play instruments on stage, etc.  Minimal set.

Orchestration:

Currently scored for vn, cl/b.cl/alto sax, vc, pno
Future arrangements for 7 players, 13 players or chamber orchestra

Listen:

“The Little Sparrows”– (baritone Lee Poulis)
“Scene Along the Seine” – 1924 Paris, where WCW’s book is being published, thanks to Pound. Night, WCW and his wife are strolling along the Seine. Flossie is happily drunk and in love with Paris. Their very strained marriage has been doing wonderfully here, but suddenly their differences hit them full force. (Lee Poulis and Kara Cornell, Floss)

“So Many Evenings”– Floss tries to explain to her husband why she’s leaving him for a year, taking the two boys with her. (Roberta Gumbel, Floss)

“The Boys Are Settled” – Floss can finally breath, having settled the boys into their new school in Geneva. (Roberta Gumbel)

“I Never Hated the Woman In Your Life” – 1953, WCW has had a breakdown precipitated by an investigation by the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Floss is left to pick up the pieces. (Roberta Gumbel)

Watch:

The Story:

This is a story about several things: genius; the sustained passion it takes to realize genius; but, more dramatically, how an ordinary person balances love and self-love living with such a partner?   It is also about America and what America can mean to a person whose parents “came here to give me this country.”  And, if we widen the lens, it is about the quixotic history of Art in America – for the people who make it and the people who receive it and the people who are its subject matter.

But mostly, mostly, it’s about Flossie and Bill.

Historical Note:

William Carlos Williams was a first generation American. Like so many children of immigrants, he grabbed America around the neck and willed her to be as successful as he himself wanted to be. Unfortunately, he was alive and writing at the precise moment that American arts and letters picked up and moved to Europe. Enter Ezra Pound, mentor and leader of that movement. Pound makes the third point of the triangle in the opera with Williams and his wife Florence. Under pressure from both Ezra and Floss, in the artistically voluptuous year 1924, Williams tried Paris. To his wife’s furious disappointment, he rejected it utterly, hurrying back to his homeland, New Jersey, where he practiced both art and medicine for the rest of his life. That in the end, in the 1950’s, he was accused of being un-American–a colossal irony–demolished his health and hastened his death. For Floss–doctor’s wife/poet’s wife–it provided the greatest test yet of her determination to live with this mercurial, shy, philandering, loving man.

  • The intense use of the chorus in Brechtian ensemble style, with all chorus members performing multiple solo cameo roles, makes the opera a good fit for vocal arts departments that wish to give their advanced students experience in both contemporary music and featured dramatic characters to develop. In this respect, a collaboration between an opera company and a conservatory might be one logical path towards a premier.
  • The opera requires a minimal-to-non-existant set as it was conceived to use primarily lighting, costume pieces and props deployed by ensemble members to instantaneously convey different spaces and times.
  • Perusal score available in pdf or hard copy from Subito Music.