Out of Town
Ned Rorem composing the opera version of Thornton Wilder's beloved Our Town is reason enough to be in the audience for the premiere Feb. 24-25 and Mar. 3-4 in the Musical Arts Center on the IU Bloomington campus.
The Richmond, IN, native is considered America's premiere living composer. Internationally, Rorem is acclaimed for the beautifully seamless blending of music with text of his art songs. In meeting the challenge to bring Our Town to the operatic stage, Rorem has been collaborating with poet and librettist J.D. McClatchy, conductor David Effron, stage director Vince Liotta and designer David Higgins.
With the enthusiastic blessings of Tappan Wilder, Thornton Wilder's nephew, Rorem has approached the commission as the consummate composer. With rehearsals underway, he waits for the performance to judge his work.
"I'm a composer. I have technique. I had a good librettist. I write well for human voices. There is nothing I can say that the music doesn't say," stated Rorem during a telephone interview on Jan. 29. "Musically, until one hears it, it's not alive."
For J.D.McClatchy, an opera of Our Town was a natural. The founding president of the Thornton Wilder Society, he is the author of five collections of poems and a well-respected librettist with a eight works, including a 90-minute singing version of The Magic Flute, which premieres Dec. 29, 2006, at the Metropolitan Opera.
"Our Town is a play about the way we think about the past; the way memory shapes us," cites McClatchy. "This is the roundness of life haunted by death. It's a wonderful romance and marriage with the rug pulled out from under it in [the opera's] Act II. People will recognize the play and all the famous scenes. But musical time is shorter than dramatic time."
"The excitement is high," reports director Vince Liotta. "Every time you do a world premiere you are going off into the unknown. We have [people] inclined to be comfortable with that kind of risk-taking. We don't know that the show is going to be what the audience wants. That's what makes new work dangerous and exciting. This is our turn for a world premiere."
"It will be different from any other opera experience," asserts Liotta. "If you come expecting the play, or Rorem writing like Verdi, or stage design as usual, you are not going to get it."