Podcast 59: Mark Campbell, Librettist

We are joined by Mark Campbell whose work as a librettist has helped create some of the most popular and oft-performed works in contemporary opera. Mark brings his humor, brilliance and insight to sets us straight on our website, dramaturgs, creating characters we can care about and building stories that matter. It was a real joy to have him on our show.

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Mark Campbell

Mark Campbell has created libretos for 28 operas, including the Pulitzer Prize Award-winning Silent Night and the Grammy-Award winning The (R)evoluton of Steve Jobs. Upcoming premieres include Today It Rains for Opera Parallèle/American Opera Projects, Edward Tulane for Minnesota Opera and Stonewall for New York City Opera.

  • The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs won the Grammy for best Opera recording
    • Mason Bates, composer
    • Mark Campbell, librettist
    • Santa Fe Opera, production
  • Mozart and Da Ponte, Daponte was listed first!
  • Stephen Sondheim
  • Poet vs. Librettist
    • The difference between poetry and a lyric is poetry is meant to be read and re-read a number of times to understand what it is saying, A lyric is set to music and you must understand it’s meaning immediately as you hear it being sung. This is why lyrics are a stronger choice to set in opera and music theater over poetry.

What We’ve Seen:

  • Chuck, Brooke & Peter
    • Iolanta/Bluebeard’s Castle by Tchaikovsky/Bartok
      • Sonya Yoncheva, Iolanta
      • Matthew Polenzani, Vaudemont
      • Gerald Finley, Bluebeard
      • A very expressionistic staging of the two operas.
      • With Bluebeard’s Castle part of the set blocks the audience’s view of the two singers in the whole beginning section.
  • Chuck
    • Network based on the screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky
      • Lee Hall, adapter
      • Ivo Van Hove, director
      • Bryan Cranston, Howard Beale
      • Tony Goldwyn, Max Schumacher
      • Tatianna Maslany, Diana Christensen
      • A massive multi-media production including camera people filming onstage sending real time video to projection screens.
    • La Fille du Regiment by Donizetti
      • Metropolitan Opera
      • Laurent Pelly, director
      • Enrique Mazzola, conductor
      • Pretty Yende, Marie
      • Javier Camarena, Tonio
      • Stephanie Blythe, Marquise de Berkenfield
      • Alessandro Corbelli, Sulpice
      • Kathleen Turner, Duchess of Krakenthorp
      • The production has held up wonderfully in revival.
  • Brooke
    • American Dream, new album release concert
      • Scott Wollschleger, composer
      • Bearthoven, a contemporary piano trio
      • Cantaloupe Music, recording company
  • Chuck
    • The Bridges of Madison County
      • Jason Robert Brown, music & lyrics
      • Marsha Norman, book
      • Mark Mantino, director
      • Philadelphia Theatre Company
      • This was a reduced cast production that the director and theater company got the approval to from the writers.
      • It was performed by a cast of 8, no extra ensemble members.

Mark Campbell

  • As One, a chamber opera
    • Laura Kaminsky, composer
    • Kimberly Reed, co-librettist/film
    • Mark Campbell, co-librettist
    • “To know”, an aria that explores that moment you find someone in a similar situation to identify with and made you believe you are okay as you are.
    • Mark’s “To know” moment watching Lance Loud living as an openly gay man on the ground breaking PBS docu-series, An American Family.
    • Music clip credits:
      • “To Know” from AS ONE
        Excerpt from the 2014 World Premiere production
        Music and Concept by Laura Kaminsky
        Libretto by Mark Campbell and Kimberly Reed
        Performances by Sasha Cooke and Kelly Markgraf
        Featuring The Fry Street Quartet
        Film by Kimberly Reed
        Music Direction by Steven Osgood
        Directed by Ken Cazan
        Set and Lighting Design by David Jacques
        Costume Design by Sara Jean Tosetti
        Recorded September 7, 2014, BAM Fisher Center, Brooklyn, NY 11217
  • Today It Rains, a new chamber opera
    • Laura Kaminsky, composer
    • Mark Campbell, concept & co-librettist
    • Kimberly Reed, co-librettist
    • Opera Parallele, San Francisco
    • In 1929, artist Georgia O’Keefe boarded a train in New York bound for Santa Fe at a critical juncture in her life—when she had to confront difficulties in her marriage to Stieglitz and sought a new landscape for artistic fulfillment.
    • Mark’s mother was an artist who wasn’t able to make the choice O’Keeffe did and dedicates this opera to her.
  • Other recent contemporary works that present us with relatable characters and their journeys to personal enlightenment:
    • Prototype Festival 2019
      • This Tree by Leah Coloff, composer/performer
      • Train With No Midnight, Joseph Keckler, composer/performer
        • Opera Philadelphia Festival 018
    • Opera Phildelphia Festival 017
      • Sky On Swings, an opera about female Alzheimer patients
        • Lembit Beecher, composer
        • Hannah Moscovitch, librettist
  • Elizabeth Cree
    • Peter Ackroyd, author of the original novel
    • Kevin Puts, composer
    • Mark Campbell, librettist
    • David Schweizer, director
    • Mark normally frowns on being made to use a dramaturge, but with Elizabeth Cree he was grateful for the advice and guidance of the director.
      • Music Clip Credit
        • Daniela Mack, mezzo-soprano
        • Kevin Puts, piano
  • Silent Night, an opera
    • Kevin Puts, composer
    • Mark Campbell, librettist
    • Contemporary opera is asking much tougher questions of its audience than most traditional operas ever do. Also, the focus is most often on stories and characters that we can relate to in this day and age.
    • Clip Credit: Karin Wolverton as Anna Sørensen
      • {more music clip credits coming}
  • Stonewall, a new opera
    • Iain Bell, composer
    • Mark Campbell, librettist
    • New York City Opera
      • Michael Capasso, General Director
    • Mark was paired up with the composer by the opera company and wrote the first complete draft of the libretto in a couple of weeks.
  • In response to the fatal attack at the Pulse Club in Orlando, FL,
    • Mark convinced Opera Orlando and other companies to produce a benefit concert.
    • One Voice Orlando, a Celebration in Song
    • Light Shall Lift Us, a choral work was premiered
    • Paul Moravec, composer
    • Mark Campbell, librettist
  • Mark originally arrived in New York to be an actor.
    • He was dating a composer writing a musical that needed a lyricist about the last Days of the Romanovs.
    • Stephen Hoffman, composer
    • More musicals were created with the same composer.
  • Mark was awarded the first Kleban Award for Lyricists, as well as two Richard Rodgers Awards and a Larson Foundation Award
  • John Musto, the composer contacted Mark and he wrote his first opera libretto for Volpone.
  • The Minnesota Opera Company commissioned and is developing Edward Tulane, a family opera, based on the book The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.
    • Paula Prestini, composer
    • Mark Campbell, librettist
  • The Shining, based on the novel by Stephen King
    • Paul Moravec, composer
    • Mark Campbell, librettist
  • Anton Chekhov, a playwright of truly funny and human plays
  • Humor is one of the best paths to take when addressing potentially incendiary issues in a stage work.
  • Nicky Silver, who writes dark comedies first engages his audience through viciously funny interactions and sets up the relationship so they are willing to continue the journey when it becomes more dramatic.
  • Peter feels that Debussy did not care whether his audience was engaged or not during his opera Pelleas et Melisande.
  • Brooke feels that that the score does transport and engages you.
  • The Iceman Cometh by Eugene O’Neill
  • Einstein On the Beach by Philip Glass
  • The Prom, a new Broadway musical comedy that is extremely funny, yet heartfelt, human and touches on tough modern day issues.
  • The Band’s Visit, a Broadway musical
    • David Yazbeck, music & lyrics
    • Itamar Moses, book
    • This is a show about how people from different ethnic backgrounds who find ways to connect and build bridges.
    • It doesn’t blare out it’s story, but instead draws you into it.
  • Fun Home, a musical based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel
    • Jeanine Tesori, music
    • Lisa Kron, book & lyrics
  • The Whole Truth, a chamber opera in seven scenes
    • Robert Patterson, composer
    • Mark Campbell, librettist
    • Stephen McCauley, author of original short story
  • Empty the House, a new one-act opera
    • Rene Orth, composer
    • Mark Campbell, librettist
    • A co-production by Curtis Institute/Opera Philadelphia
    • {music clip credits coming}
  • The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs will be produced by Seattle Opera
    • Music clip credit
      • Scene 9, Music. Bach. Instruments
      • Edward Parks
      • The Santa Fe Opera
      • Michael Christie, conductor
      • NAXOS of America
  • Silent Night by Kevin Puts & Mark Campbell was revised for the Glimmerglass Festival production.
    • {music clip credits coming}
    • Mark frequently returns to his operas and does rewrites if necessary.
  • Contemporary opera is blessed with so many amazing highly trained singers who have been taught to focus on telling the story.
    • Steven Blier is one of those excellent voice teachers.

Looking Forward To:

  • Brooke
    • Samson e Delilah by Camille Sait-Saens
      • Anita Rachvelishvili, Delilah
      • This production opened with Roberto Alagna as Samson and Elina Garanca as Delilah.
      • Heartbeat Opera should do one of their intimate revisionist productions of this opera with a reduced cast size.
  • Chuck
    • Superhero, a new musical produced by Second Stage Theater
      • Tom Kitt, music & lyrics
      • John Logan, book
    • Alice By Heart, a new musical produced by MCC Theater
      • Duncan Sheik, music
      • Steven Sater, lyrics & co-bookwriter
      • Jesse Nelson, co-bookwriter/director
      • based on Alice In Wonderland set during the London Blitz
  • Songs From An Unmade Bed, a theatrical song cycle
    • Mark Campbell as lyricist/Librettist
    • 18 different composers provided music at one song a piece.
    • “Oh To Be Stupid Again”
    • Duncan Sheik, music
    • New York Theatre Workshop produced this show
    • Michael Winther, performer
    • David Schweizer, stage director
    • Kimberly Grigsby, music director
  • Peter

Credits: Mark Campbell, Peter Szep, Brooke Larimer, Chuck Sachs, Matthew Wilson, Ross Crean (Theme Music), Matthew Wilson (Audio Engineer), Peter Szep (Editor)

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