Podcast 48: Huang Ruo, Royce Vavrek and David T. Little

Huang Ruo and David T. Little, composers and Royce Vavrek, librettist, join the show to talk about their recent work, including “An American Soldier” “Proving Up” and “Artaud In the Black Lodge.” Did Strauss know how to write for singers? Opera as Propaganda. JFK’s drug use! The New York Opera Fest, and some great Chinese Folk-Rock!

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  • Huang Ruo
    • An American Soldier
    • Librettist – David Henry Hwang
    • Opera Theater of St. Louis, full-length version premiere, June 2018
  • David T. Little
    • Dog Days, JFK, Soldier Songs, Vinkensport
  • Royce Vavrek
    • Breaking the Waves, Dog Days, 27, JFK, Songs From the Uproar, Angel’s Bone
  • Vinkensport
    • Opera Saratoga, July 2018
    • Premiere of new chamber version
    • Lawrence Edelson, Artistic & General Director
  • Proving Up
    • Missy Mazzoli, composer
    • Royce Vavrek, librettist
    • Opera Omaha, April 2018
    • Christopher Rountree, conductor
    • James Darrah, director
    • Cast includes: Talise Trevigne, John Moore, Michael Slattery, Andrew Harris
    • About settlers in Nebraska in the 1870’s and the impossibility of the American Dream


  • Huang Ruo
    • Prototype Festival
    • Acquanetta
      • Michael Gordon, composer
      • Deborah Aartman, librettist
      • Fellow Travelers
    • Gregory Spears, composer
      • Greg Pierce, librettist
    • The Passengers, a Holocaust set opera
  • David
    • Cosi fan Tutte
      • Metropolitan Opera, new production
      • Set in the 1950’s at a Coney Island like fairground
      • Kelli O’Hara, sings Despina
  • Chuck
    • An American Soldier, performed excerpts and panel discussion
      • Guggenheim Museum: Works and Process
    • Farinelli and the King, Broadway production
    • Jerry Springer: The Opera
      • Richard Thomas, composer, lyricist, co-book author
      • Stewart Lee, co-book author and additional lyrics
      • Signature Theater NYC
        • Anna Nicole: The Opera
        • Mark-Anthony Turnage, composer
        • Richard Thomas, librettist
    • A Quiet Place
      • Leonard Bernstein, composer
      • Stephen Wadsworth, librettist
      • Garth Edwin Sunderland, chamber adaptation
      • Curtis Opera Theatre at Hunter College
      • Trouble in Tahiti, prequel 1 Act opera
      • “There is a Garden”, original closing ensemble of opera
  • Dennis Cleveland, an opera
    • Mikel Rouse, composer & librettist
    • Produced at The Kitchen, NYC 1996
    • Lincoln Center Festival, NYC 2002
    • based on a talk show format with cast members spread out through the audience
    • John Ralston Saul’s book – Voltaire’s Bastards, which was a critique of Western society
  • Peter
    • Elektra
      • Richard Strauss
      • Metropolitan Opera
      • Patrice Chereau, director
      • Christine Goerke, sang Electra
    • Does Strauss orchestrate in support of the singers, or to intentionally overwhelm them? Is this a dramatic choice or was an issue with this and many other productions of Strauss operas in terms of balance.
    • The Orchestrations should underpin the drama.
    • New age of opera singers as community ambassadors in person and especially on social media.
    • Semiramide
      • Rossini, composer
      • Metropolitan Opera
      • Angela Meade, Semiramide
      • Javier Camerena, Idreno
      • Elizabeth DeShong, Arsace
      • La Cenerentola by Rossini
    • Parsifal at Metropolitan Opera by Richard Wagner
  • Royce
    • The Flying Dutchman
      • Richard Wagner, composer
      • Olivier Py, director
      • Croatian National Theater in Zagreb
    • Proving Up
      • Washington National Opera production
    • Fellow Travelers
      • Prototype Festival 2018
    • Beth Morrison Projects Next Generation Concert
      • National Sawdust
      • Semi-Finalists:
        • Emma O’Halloran
          • Cages
        • Michael Lanci
      • Two Semi-Finalists must compose a 30 minute vocal work, after a further panelist decision, one composer will be commissioned to compose a full-length work
      • Other Finalist composers:
        • Molly Joyce, Matt McBane, Gemma Peacocke, Noah Kaplan, Jessie Downs, Matthew Recio, Daniel Sabzghabaei, Leaha Maria Villareal
  • Peter
    • Opera America
      • Discovery grants from the Opera Grants for Female Composers Program
      • Funded by the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation
    • Lisa Despain  — That Hellbound Train, based on a story by Robert Bloch
    • Alexa Dexa — Be a Doll
    • Germana Franco  —  La Capitana!
      • Nancy De Los Santos, co-librettist
      • Alejandra Martinez, co-librettist
    • Elizabeth Kelly  —  Losing Her Voice
    • Leanna Kirchoff  — Friday After Friday
      • Rachel J. Peters, librettist
    • Veronica Krausas  —  Ghost Opera
      • Andre’ Alexis, librettist
      • The Mortal Thoughts of Lady Macbeth
        • City Opera VOX program
    • Julia Meinwald  —  REB+VoDKa+ME
      • Gordon Leary, librettist
      • Pregnancy Pact, a musical
        • Yale Theater
        • Lauren Worsham, singer
    • Liza Seigido — Cyborgs Are Dancing
      • based on Petrarch’s Canzonieres
    • Based on the real story of Danny Chen, a Chinese-American from 2011
    • President Obama singed an executive order banning hazing in the military
    • The Dance and the Railroad
      • David Henry Hwang, playwright
      • Huang Ruo, incidental music composer
      • Signature Theater NYC production
    • [CLIP:“I’m Sorry, Ah Ma.” a sung monologue for Danny Chen]
    • Opera should reveal the humanity of the characters
    • Francesca Zambello, Artistic Director
      • Washington National Opera, DC
      • American Opera Initiative
      • One Act version was commissioned and produced
      • They consider this a docu-opera
      • Primarily based on Military trail transcripts
    • Opera Theatre of St. Louis
      • James Robinson, Artistic Director
      • Commissioned a full-length version of opera
      • This version is more emotionally focussed and now includes the Mrs Chen, Danny’s Mother as a character, with some material that shows the Mother/Son relationship.
      • Andrew Stenson – tenor sang Danny Chen in the one act version at WNO, and will continue in the role at OTSL
  • There has been an explosion in the past 10 years of socio-political focussed operas in America in theaters such as: Houston Grand Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Minnesota Opera, etc.
    • Angel’s Bone
      • Du Yun, composer & Royce Varek, librettist
      • deals with human trafficking
      • Two Angels fall from heaven and are captured and ill-used by a suburban couple
      • Abigail Fischer, sang Mrs. X.E. in Prototype Festival production
    • Dead Man Walking deals with the death penalty and our prison system
    • JFK, opera
      • David T. LIttle, composer
      • Royce Vavrek, librettist
      • Opera de Montreal
        • PolySci reading group at Concordia University, Royce’s Alma Mater
    • Verdi wrote many politically focussed operas
    • 27, opera
      • Ricky Ian Gordon, composer
      • Royce Vavrek, librettist
      • About Gertrude Stein and her Paris Salon at 27 rue de Fleurus
  • Vinkensport, one act opera
    • David T. Little, composer
    • Royce Vavrek, librettist
    • an opera about Finch Sitting, but really about compulsion and loneliness
  • The House Without a Christmas Tree, opera
    • Ricky Ian Gordon, composer
    • Royce Vavrek, librettist
    • based on the book by Gail Rock
    • Houston Grand Opera commission
    • Featured Cast: Lauren Snouffer, Daniel Blecher, Patricia Schuman
  • Written On Skin
    • Opera Philadlephia 2018
    • Lauren Snouffer as Agnes
    • Anthony Roth Costanzo as First Angel/Boy
  • Recent European opera and play premieres have been addressing the crisis issue of refugees and resettlement
  • Socio-Political operas are trying to give the audience more direction in terms of discussing the issues presented. They present the story and intend that this will create further personal investigations.
  • This is as opposed to propoganda-like works that are telling you how to think.
  • Cornelius Cardew, an English experimental music composer
  • JFK, an opera
    • a non political story placed in a highly political setting
    • really about mortality and fate
    • They address JFK’s drug use due to his back injuries from the war
      • The Crown on BBC America/Netflix has addressed it as well
    • Fort Worth Opera (production)
      • Darren K. Woods, Artistic Director at the time
    • American Lyric Theater (co-commissioner w/ Opera de Montreal)
      • Lawrence Edelson, Artistic Director
  • Both Huang Ruo and David are equally well known orchestral composers
  • Is there a difference when writing for orchestra as opposed to music drama?
  • Huang Ruo always creates characters and a drama in his head for his instrumental works, not to say that they are programmatic works, but it can assist with balance, form and orchestration.
  • David T. Littles projects:
    • The Conjured Life, an orchestral work celebrating the Centenary or
    • Lou Harrison
      • The Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music
    • Spectral Composing, about the color of “sound”
    • Dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet
      • Seven Responses Project based on Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri
      • International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE)
      • The Crossing
        • Donald Nally, conductor
      • David’s section is about Christ on the Cross knowing that the nails used to crucify him will be collected and worn as magic amulets.
      • About the nature of the transfiguration of pain
    • Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
      • Frantisek Rint, wood carver and carpenter created a series of sculptures and chandeliers using human bones
    • Dog Days
      • CLIP: “This…F-d” sung by James Bobek as Howard in Dog Days by Little/Vavrek
        • This aria is sort of like a mad scene after Howard confronts Prince.
        • Prince (Dog) has been performed by John Kelly, a man in the opera, Dog Days who has relinquished his humanity.
      • This opera can seem very intense, violent and sexual
      • Salome by Richard Strauss was looked at as very shocking it it’s day.
      • Recent Dog Days Production
        • Louisiana State University, first collegiate production
        • Dugg McDonough, director
      • Bielefeld Opera, Germany, original BMP version
        • Robert Woodruff, director
  • Royce’s Projects
    • Angel’s Bone by Du Yun/Vavrek
      • Oberlin College and Conservatory of Music
      • Christopher Mirto, director
    • Both of these operas strongly evidence the encroachment of electronic instruments
    • into the orchestration, incorporating elements of rock, grunge-rock, etc.
    • Dog Days grew out of a commission from
      • Dawn Upshaw
      • Osvaldo Golijov
      • Young Artist Concerts
      • 1st version was only 25 minutes long
      • Americaj Opera Projects at Galapagos Arts Space
    • 2nd version/new material
    • Do limitations and deadlines spur your creativity and choice of subject matter?
  • Huang Ruo’s Project
    • Paradise Interrupted, an installation opera in One Act
      • Ji Cao, Jennifer Wen Ma, Huang Ruo, Qian Yi – co-librettists
      • Features Qian Yi, as female Kunqu opera singer & 4 male singers
    • 4 Saints in 3 Acts
      • The Mother of Us All
      • Virgil Thomson, composer
      • Gertrude Stein, librettist
    • Royce
      • Proving Up at Opera Omaha
        • Christopher Rountree, conductor
        • James Darrah, director
      • Naamah’s Ark, an oratorio
        • Marisa Michelson, composer
        • Royce vavrek, librettist
        • Master Voices NYC
        • Victoria Clark, lead vocalist
      • Beyond Liberty, a concert event
        • Glimmerglass Festival
        • Francesca Zambello, director
        • Thomas Hampson, lead vocalist
    • David
      • Soldier Songs
        • Fargo-Moorhead Opera, ND
        • Newspeak, instrumental ensemble
        • Christopher Burchett, sings Soldier
      • Artaud In the Black Lodge
        • Anne Waldman, librettist
        • BMP work in development
      • Metropolitan Opera/Lincoln Center Music Theater Commissioning Project
        • Two Boys
        • Marnie
          • Nico Muhly, composer
    • Huang Ruo
      • Concerts in Salzburg & Munich
      • An American Soldier
        • Opera Theatre of St, Louis
      • Folksongs for Orchestra
        • Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music
      • Paradise Interrupted
      • New Asian tour of original Lincoln Center Festival production
      • John Holliday, counter-tenor
    • Peter
      • New York Opera Festival
        • New York Opera Alliance
        • 12 world premieres
        • Fest Tix, a new special ticket offer by/before 5/1
        • nyoperafest.com
    • Royce
      • Heartbeat Opera Spring Festival
        • Ethan Heard, director
        • Louisa Proske, director
        • Fidelio
        • Don Giovanni
    • Chuck
      • Cosi fan Tutte at Metropolitan Opera
      • Phelim McDermott, director

Credits: Peter Szep, Chuck Sachs, Ben Young (Audio Engineer), Peter Szep (Editor)

We would like to thank Fort Worth Opera, Fort With Symphony Orchestra, Boosey & Hawkes for permission to use extended clips.

Audio Credits:

Dog Days (2012)
Act II, Scene 2 – “This…fucked”
libretto by Royce Vavrek
James Bobick (Howard)
Marnie Breckenridge (Mother)
Newspeak, conducted by Alan Pierson
From the original cast recording.
Recorded Live at REDCAT, in a Beth Morrison Projects Production, presented by LA Opera
National Sawdust Tracks

dress in magic amulets, dark, from My feet (2016)
The Crossing
International Contemporary Ensemble
Donald Nally, conductor
From the album Seven Responses
Innova Records

JFK (2016)
Act I, Scene 2 – I hate it when you fall asleep”
libretto by Royce Vavrek
Matthew Worth (John F. Kennedy)
Daniela Mack (Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy)
Fort Worth Opera and Fort Worth Symphony, conducted by Steven Osgood
Live recording from the world premiere at Bass Hall, Fort Worth, TX

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