January 19, 2006

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Classical Music: Something Wilde

Act 1 of new Oscar Wilde opera to be staged in Concord

By Jeff Rapsis  jrapsis@hippopress.com

For Phil Lauriat, creating opera doesn’t always mean staging the classics.

That’s why Granite State Opera, the company he founded in 1999, is in the thick of an unusual effort: a workshop production of a brand-new opera.

“You need to do these things to stretch the art form,” Lauriat said. “Otherwise it gets stuck. To be involved in new opera helps keep the art form alive.”

The full-length opera, Oscar Wilde, is being written by Boston-based composer Thomas Oboe Lee, with words by New Hampshire attorney/songwriter Paul Hodes.

The work tells the story of the brilliant Victorian author’s life, which alternated between triumphant literary achievements and personal scandal.

Act I of the new two-act opera-in-progress will be performed for the first time in front of an audience on Sunday, Jan. 22 at 2 p.m. at the Concord Community Music School. The public is invited; admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students/seniors.

No scenery or costumes will be used, nor will there be an orchestra. The performance is designed as a music run-through with singers accompanied only by piano. The goal is to hear how the score fits together in performance, and to get comments from the audience afterwards.

Lauriat, founder and artistic director of Granite State Opera, is rehearsing the singers and will lead the performance. The singers include Boston-based baritone David Kravitz in the title role and a cast of supporting roles sung by such well-known local artists as bass Mark Andrew Cleveland, mezzo Janice Edwards, and soprano Molly Jo Bessey.

Wilde, a successful author and playwright, scandalized Victorian Britain with behavior that included open homosexuality. Wilde’s actions eventually led to imprisonment, the end of his career, and illness and suffering that shortened his life.

The opera opens with Wilde on his deathbed in a Paris hotel shortly after being released from prison. Wilde’s life then unfolds in flashback.

A preview of Lee’s score in piano reduction finds it to be relatively straightforward, with conservative harmonies spiced up by occasional lively rhythms. No full performances are yet scheduled, but Lauriat said it’s possible a group of opera companies (including Granite State Opera and other smaller companies) could pool their resources to stage Oscar Wilde when the work is completed.

Lauriat is also preparing for the company’s spring project, a full production of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly to be staged on Thursday, May 4, at the Portsmouth Music Hall and Sunday, May 7, at the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord.

Staging an opera in Portsmouth will be a first for Granite State Opera, but Lauriat is eager to bring his productions to audiences in the Seacoast. The next step after that will likely be to try staging opera in Keene.

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