Podcast 69: Ricky Ian Gordon and Jennifer Zetlan from Ellen West

We sit down for an invigorating discussion with composer Ricky Ian Gordon & soprano Jennifer Zetlan about the chamber opera Ellen West which is receiving it’s NYC premiere as part of Prototype Festival 2020 January 14, 15, 17 & 18 at 8pm | January 19 at 3pm at Gelsey Kirkland Arts Center. Jennifer talks about her solo debut album with Ricky, Your Clear Eye and Ricky about their upcoming production of his next opera premiere, Intimate Apparel with Lynn Nottage for a 10 week run at Lincoln Center Theater.

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  • Queen of Spades by Tchaikovsky
    • Metropolitan Opera
    • Elijah Moshinsky, original director
    • Eugen Onegin by Tchaikovsky
  • On Site Opera
    • Amahl and the Night Visitors
    • Produced in the Holy Apostle soup kitchen
    • Uses homeless people as part of the cast
  • Oklahoma on Broadway
  • Betty, the band
    • The Cutting Room
    • Gloria Steinem, gave a speech
  • Heartbeat Opera
    • Der Freischutz by Carl Maria von Weber
    • Baruch PAC
    • Louisa Proske, co-director, new adaptation
    • Daniel Schlosberg, music director/arranger
    • Jacob Ashworth, concertmaster also one of the co-founders of Heartbeat Opera


  • Metropolitan Opera
  • Covering Queen Tye for Akhnaten
  • The Magic Flute


  • Akhnaten by Philip Glass
  • The Sound Inside
    • Lincoln Center Theater at Studio 54 on Broadway
    • Mary-Louise Parker
  • Judy, a movie
    • Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland
  • Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Parasite
  • Marriage Story
  • Luce
    • Octavia Spencer
    • Naomi Watts


  • The Mandalorian on Disney+


  • Parasite by South Korean filmmaker Bong Joon-ho
  • Harriet
    • Cynthia Erivo as Harriet Tubman
  • Knives Out
    • Rian Johnson, writer-director
  • Akhnaten


  • Paul Cremo, dramaturg for Metropolitan Opera
    • Nico Muhly
    • Two Boys


  • Three Philip Glass Portrait opera
    • Einstein On the Beach
    • Satyagraha
    • Akhnaten
      • Phelim McDermott, director
  • Der Freischutz by Heartbeat Opera
  • Jagged Little Pill on Broadway
    • Alanis Morisette
    • Too many major hot point issues in one show
  • Moulin Rouge
    • a more coherently told story
  • Anything Can Happen in the Theater: the Musical World of Maury Yeston
    • York Theatre
    • Nine
    • Titanic
    • Maury Yeston is a master teacher in the BMI Lehman Engel Advanced Musical Theatre Workshop

Opera Dramaturgy

  • Intimate Apparel a play by Lynn Nottage
  • Satyagraha
    • A meditation on Gandhi
    • the language is extremely harmonious with the subject matter
  • Akhnaten in Akhnaten
    • Anthony Roth Costanzo, counter-tenor
  • Glass/Handel
    • A multi-media recital he created based on solo debut album
    • Opera Philadelphia
  • 27 by Ricky Ian Gordon
    • Royce Vavrek, librettist
    • About Gertrude Stein & Alice B. Toklas
    • Stephanie Blythe
    • Opera Theater of St. Louis commissioned the opera for her
    • Timothy O’Leary, General Director 2008-2018
  • The Grapes of Wrath
    • Utah Opera, co-commissioner
    • Michael Korie, librettist/book-writer
      • Grey Gardens on Broadway
      • War Paint on Broadway
      • Flying Over Sunset
        • Lincoln Center Theater at Vivian Beaumont
        • James Lapine, bookwriter/director
        • Tom Kitt, composer

Ellen West

  • Frank Bidart, poet of underlying work
    • Ricky was referred to read the poetry of Bidart after he lost his life-partner Jeffrey Grossi
    • “The Yolk”
    • Frank wrote this poem after Joe Brainerd had passed on
    • Frank Bidart Three major poems
    • “Herbert White” in the voice of a serial murderer
    • “The War of Vaslav Njinsky”
  • “Ellen West” based on the case files of Dr. Binswanger
  • The House Without a Christmas Tree, 2017 world premiere
    • Houston Grand Opera
    • Royce Vavrek, librettist
  • Ricky has struggled his whole life with eating disorder and his body image. So, the poem Ellen West spoke deeply to him.
  • Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Frank’s publishers
    • Ricky asked Frank to write a new prologue and epilogue for the opera to create a third character for the piece.
  • Where Ricky first encountered Jennifer
    • Our Town by Ned Rorem
      • Juilliard Opera Theatre
      • Jennifer Zetlan sang Emily Webb
  • Morning Star was being cast and both Ricky and his director decided on Jennifer separately and that became their first collaboration
  • Frank Bidart wrote a semi-sequel poem “Writing Ellen West”
  • Nathan Gunn is performing the Doctor in the Prototype production
  • Saratoga Opera produced the world premiere production this summer
  • Ingmar Bergman is the artist that has influenced Ricky the most, his engagement with women and their stories
  • Susan Gordon Lydon, Ricky’s older sister
    • “The Politics of Orgasm” 1970, an essay
    • One of the founders of the modern feminist movement along with
    • Betty Friedan
    • Kate Millett
    • Germaine Greer
    • Founded Rolling Stone Magazine
  • Keith Phares was the Doctor in the world premiere of Ellen West at Saratoga Opera
  • Maria Callas’s story is addressed in the poem and opera Ellen West about what she did to her body for her art.

Intimate Apparel, a new opera

  • co-commissioned by Metropolitan Opera & Lincoln Center Theater
  • Lynn Nottage, African-American playwright
    • Ruined, Pulitzer Prize in Drama
    • Sweat, Pulitzer Prize in Drama
  • Receiving it’s world premiere production in Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Off-Broadway house for a 10 week run!
  • Bartlett Sher, director
    • South Pacific revival
    • King & I revival
    • To Kill a Mockingbird
    • Fiddler On the Roof Broadway revival
      • Jennifer Zetlan played Shaindel and understudied Tzeitel, Chava, Grandma Tzeitel and Fruma Sarah

Our Town by Ned Rorem

  • Peter Szep, conductor of New England premiere where he met Brooke & Noah and became the impetus to create
  • Indie Opera Podcast.
  • Brooke Larimer, Mrs. Soames
  • Noah Lethbridge, was also in the cast

Scalia/Ginsburg, an opera by Derrick Wang

  • Jennifer Zetlan is performing Ruth Bader Ginsburg
  • Opera Grand Rapids
  • Toledo Opera
  • Opera Carolina

Your Clear Eye recorded by the Bright Shiny Things label

  • Jennifer’s debut solo album in collaboration with Ricky Ian Gordon
  • includes Ricky’s settings of 2 monologues from Angels in America
    • Antartica
    • Night Flight to San Francisco
    • The song cycle “Too Few the Mornings Be”
    • poetry by Emily Dickinson

Ricky is published by:

  • Theodore Presser
  • Williamson Music – Rodgers & Hammerstein
  • Carl Fischer Music

Dream True, a musical

  • Ricky Ian Gordon, music
  • The impetus for this show began with the song “We Will Always Walk Together” written while his partner Jeffrey was in the hospital.

Jeffrey’s Birthday, a Symphony Space concert in his honor

  • performers included:
    • Audra McDonald
    • Harolyn Blackwell
    • Cherry Jones
    • Martin Moran
    • John Nauman, accompanist
  • Tina Landau, book & lyrics, also director
    • Inspired by George du Maureen’s 1891 novel Peter Ibbetson
  • PS Classics recorded the score including these performers:
    • Brian d’Arcy James, Jason Danieley, Kelli O’Hara, Jessica Molaskey, Jeff McCarthy and Victoria Clark

Looking forward to:


  • Metropolitan Opera
    • Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss
    • Agrippina by Handel
    • Wozzeck by Alban Berg
  • Caroline or Change by Jeanine Tesori & Tony Kushner


  • Prototype 2020 runs January 9th thru 19th
    • Ellen West
    • Co-produced & commissioned by
    • Beth Morrison Projects
    • Opera Saratoga


  • Metropolitan Opera
    • Wozzeck
    • Agrippina
  • Prototype Festival 2020
  • Tom Kitt, composer
    • The Visitor with Brian Yorkey & Kwame Kwei-Armah
      • The Public Theater
    • Flying Over Sunset with James Lapine
      • Lincoln Center Theater
    • Next to Normal
    • If/Then
      • Music Director/Arranger of
        • American Idiot
        • Jagged Little Pill
        • Spongebob: The Musical
          • Nickelodeon TV


  • Wozzeck
    • William Kentridge director/designer
    • Greg Moomjy’s new article about Wozzeck on Indie Opera Podcast


  • The Inheritance by Matthew Lopez

OPERA America

  • IDEA Opera Grants for composers and librettists of color
  • Repertoire Development Grants

Ricky Ian Gordon

Operas include: The House Without A Christmas Tree for Houston Grand Opera, with librettist Royce Vavrek, Morning Star for Cincinnati Opera, with librettist William Hoffman, 27 for Opera Theatre of St Louis, with librettist, Royce Vavrek, A Coffin In Egypt for Houston Grand Opera, with librettist, Leonard Foglia, Rappahannock County for Virginia Opera with librettist, Mark Campbell, The Grapes of Wrath for Minnesota Opera, with librettist Michael Korie, and Orpheus and Euridice for Lincoln Center, for which he won an OBIE Award in 2005. His musicals include Sycamore Trees for the Signature Theatre (Helen Hayes Award), My Life With Albertine  for Playwrights Horizons, with writer/director Richard Nelson (AT&T Award and The Gilman and Gonzalez-Falla Music Theater Foundation Award), and Dream True for The Vineyard Theatre with writer/director Tina Landau (Richard Rodgers Award). His upcoming projects include Intimate Apparel with playwright Lynn Nottage, a co-commission from The Metropolitan Opera and The Lincoln Center Theatre, and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis with librettist Michael Korie, for New York City Opera and The National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene. Other awards include the National Institute For Music Theater Award, the Stephen Sondheim Award, the Jonathan Larson Foundation Award, the Constance Klinsky Award, The Shen Family Foundation Award, and The Carnegie-Mellon University Alumni Award.

Jennifer Zetlan

Soprano Jennifer Zetlan is internationally recognized for her artistry and captivating stage presence. She has been seen and heard on opera and concert stages worldwide, as well as recital venues, and on Broadway. In the 2019-2020 season Ms. Zetlan returns to the Metropolitan Opera to cover the role of Queen Tye in Akhnaten and reprises the role of Ruth Bader Ginsberg in Derrick Wang’s Scalia/Ginsburg (Toledo Opera, Opera Carolina) and the title character in Ricky Ian Gordon’s Ellen West (Prototype Festival). She will also be heard in a premiere of a new Paul Moravec oratorio at Carnegie Hall with Oratorio Society of NY. Known for her passion for contemporary music, Ms. Zetlan has been featured in the premieres of numerous American operas, including Nico Muhly’s Two Boys (The Metropolitan Opera) and Dark Sisters (Opera Company of Philadelphia and Gotham Chamber Opera), John Musto’s Rhoda and the Fossil Hunt (On Site Opera), Steven Stucky’s The Classical Style (Carnegie Hall and the Ojai Festival), Daron Hagen’s Amelia (Seattle Opera), Ned Rorem’s Our Town (Aspen Music Festival, Juilliard Opera Center), Matt Aucoin’s Crossing (American Repertory Theatre), Ricky Ian Gordon’s Morning Star (Cincinnati Opera, On Site Opera), and Louis Karchin’s Jane Eyre (Center for Contemporary Opera). At the Metropolitan Opera, Ms. Zetlan has been seen in HD as Xenia (Boris Godunov), and has also been seen in War and Peace, Le nozze di Figaro, and Macbeth. Ms. Zetlan recently released her debut solo album Your Clear Eye (with label Bright Shiny Things) with composer and pianist Ricky Ian Gordon. Other recent recordings include Naxos releases of Louis Karchin’s Jane Eyre and Falla’s El Retablo de Maese Pedro with the Perspectives Ensemble. Ms. Zetlan is on the voice faculty of the Mannes School of Music.


Ricky Ian Gordon, Jennifer Zetlan, Peter Szep, Chuck Sachs, Brooke Larimer. Episode 69 was recorded at Metro Podcast Studio NYC.

Thanks to Lawrence Edelson for the Sound files from Ellen West, which are from the world premiere at Opera Saratoga, starring Keith Phares and Jennifer Zetlan, Lidiya Yankovskaya, conductor.

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