CHICAGO – Chicago Opera Theater (COT) continues its 2018/2019 season with the Chicago premiere of the contemporary opera “The Scarlet Ibis.” Composed by Stefan Weisman with libretto by David Cote, “The Scarlet Ibis” was declared an “outstanding new chamber opera” by David Allen of The New York Times upon its debut at the 2015 Prototype Festival. Chicago Opera Theater presents the first full production of this operatic adaptation of James Hurst’s 1960 short story (apart from its festival debut), featuring the artistry of stage director Elizabeth Margolius and conductor David Hanlon. The opera stars Annie Rosen (who also performed in COT’s season-opening production of “Iolanta”) as Brother and Jordan Rutter as Doodle. The opening night and press performance takes place Saturday, February 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Studebaker Theater (410 S. Michigan Ave.) Additional performances will take place Thursday, February 21 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, February 24 at 3 p.m.
That same week, COT will present a week-long workshop culminating in the first full concert performance of “The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing” by composer Justine F. Chen and librettist David Simpatico as part of Chicago Opera Theater’s Vanguard Initiative to promote the creation of new opera.
“COT’s mission to support the creation of new operatic work is exemplified in our February programming, with the first production of ‘The Scarlet Ibis’ since its debut at the 2015 Prototype Festival, and the first concert performance of ‘The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing’ as part of our Vanguard Initiative,” said Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson General Director Douglas R. Clayton. “COT is proud to provide an opportunity for Chicago to see such new and exquisite operas for the first time.”
Based on James Hurst’s classic American short story, “The Scarlet Ibis” is a moving tale about brotherhood, nature and family, set in North Carolina against the backdrop of World War I. It tells the story of a young boy named Doodle and his relationship with his brother, exploring the ways people ‘other’ those who are different and questioning what it means to be ‘normal.’ The piece was commissioned and developed through the HERE Artist Residency Program (HARP) and Dream Music Puppetry Program and co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects, premiering at the Prototype Festival in January 2015 in New York City.
“It’s thrilling to see ‘The Scarlet Ibis’ picked up for a second production following its premiere at our Prototype Festival,” said co-producer Beth Morrison. “Chicago Opera Theater is a forward thinking opera company, truly embodying what a 21st century opera company should be.”
Composer Stefan Weisman spoke to the development process of the opera stating, “One element of creating this opera that felt really unique was that the two leads are a countertenor and mezzo-soprano, both high voices for male characters. And they are played by two different genders. We are playing around with traditional notions of gender and power—the weaker of the two is the male singer, and the stronger is the female singer.”
Librettist David Cote continued, “The story is very much in the tradition of Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, even William Faulkner. The language is lush and flowery, the emotions run high and the ending is both beautiful and tragic. I’m not a Southerner, I grew up in small-town New Hampshire, but I drew on memories of living near a lake and playing in the woods to create the sense of nature and wonder in the opera.”
In addition to Rosen and Rutter, “The Scarlet Ibis” cast includes Quinn Middleman as Mother, Sharmay Musacchio as Aunt Nicey, Bill McMurray as Father and dancer Ginny Ngo.
Creative Team for The Scarlet Ibis
Composer: Stefan Weisman
Librettist: David Cote
Conductor: David Hanlon
Stage Director: Elizabeth Margolius
Lighting Design: Charlie Cooper
Scenic Design: Jack Magaw
Costume Design: Brenda Winstead
Saturday, February 16, 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, February 21, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, February 24, 3 p.m.
Tickets for “The Scarlet Ibis” ($45 – $145) can be purchased by calling 312.704.8414 or by visiting chicagooperatheater.org. For tickets to see “The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing,” visit cot.org/Turing.
About Stefan Weisman
Stefan Weisman’s music has been described as “personal, moody and skillfully wrought” (The New York Times). His compositions include chamber, orchestral, theater, dance and choral pieces, and he has specialized in vocal works that explore edgy and compelling topics. His operas include “Darkling” (American Opera Projects), “Fade” (Second Movement), and “The Scarlet Ibis” (produced by HERE and Beth Morrison Projects and premiered in the 2015 PROTOTYPE opera festival). He is a graduate of Bard College (BA), Yale University (MA), and Princeton University (PhD). Presently, he is on the faculty of the Bard High School Early College in Queens, New York.
About David Cote
David Cote is a playwright, librettist and arts journalist based in New York City. His operas include “Three Way” with composer Robert Paterson (Nashville Opera and BAM); “The Scarlet Ibis” (Prototype Festival) and “Fade” with Stefan Weisman. Other works include his plays “Otherland” and “Fear of Art;” song cycle with Paterson, “In Real Life;” choral works with Paterson, “Did You Hear?” and “Snow Day.” Cote was born and adopted in New Hampshire and is a proud alum of Bard College. His fellowships include The MacDowell Colony, and he is a member of the New York Drama Critics Circle, ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild.
About David Hanlon
David Hanlon is a composer, conductor and pianist praised by Maestro Patrick Summers as “one of the major compositional voices of the young generation.” He has often written work for Houston Grand Opera, including his chamber opera “Past the Checkpoints” about undocumented immigrants, the chamber vocal piece “The Ninth November I Was Hiding,” about his grandfather’s arrest during Kristallnacht and “Power,” based on a text by a high-schooler about bullying. Hanlon was recently commissioned by the Opera For All Voices consortium to write a new chamber opera with librettist Stephanie Fleischmann, and recently conducted the premiere of his and Fleischmann’s chamber opera “After the Storm” at Houston Grand Opera.
About Elizabeth Margolius
Elizabeth Margolius is a Chicago-based Joseph Jefferson Award-nominated stage and movement director with a primary focus in developing and directing new and rarely produced music theater, operetta and opera. Margolius’ Chicago and regional stage and movement directorial credits include “Miss Holmes” for Peninsula Players, “Machinal” for Greenhouse Theater, “The Bridges of Madison County” for Peninsula Players, “The Boy Who Grew Too Fast” for SUNY/Albany Opera Program and “Uncle Philip’s Coat” for Greenhouse Theater. Margolius has been a guest director, master artist and guest/adjunct lecturer at numerous colleges, universities and festivals including the University of Nebraska, DePaul University and SUNY Albany.
The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing
As part of Chicago Opera Theater’s Vanguard Initiative to promote the creation of new opera, COT joins American Lyric Theater to present a full concert performance of “The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing” by composer Justine F. Chen and librettist David Simpatico. The opera delves deep into the mind of the groundbreaking coder often credited to be the father of modern computer science. Turing’s work during World War II designing a machine to break the code utilized by the Nazi’s Enigma Machine is estimated to have saved millions of lives. A homosexual, he was charged with gross indecency in the 1950’s and is believed to have committed suicide because of his persecution. Featuring the Bienen Contemporary and Early Vocal Ensemble of Northwestern University, baritone Jonathan Michie in the title role, tenor Jonas Hacker (Lyric Opera’s “Fellow Travelers”) and conducting by COT’s Orli and Bill Staley Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya, the performance will take place at 7:30 p.m. on February 15, 2019 at the DePaul School of Music’s Gannon Concert Hall (2330 N Halsted St.).
In addition to Michie and Hacker, the cast includes Diana Newman as Sara Turing, Vince Wallace as Fred Clayton/Judge, Elise Quagliata as Joan Clark, Arnold Geis as Steve Todd/Arnold Murray and David Salsbery Fry as Don Bailey/Bobby/Prosecutor.
About Justine Chen
Composer and violinist Justine F. Chen has been the recipient of many prestigious awards and commissions, including New York City Opera, New York City Ballet, The Juilliard School, American Composers Orchestra and New York Festival of Song. Justine has won grants from BMI, ASCAP, the Frances Goelet Charitable Lead Trust, Opera America and the American Composers Forum through their Jerome Fund for New Music. In 2010, she joined American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program as a resident artist. She earned her DMA, MM, and BM from Juilliard in violin and composition, and specializes in contemporary music performance.
About David Simpatico
David Simpatico’s work has been presented at major theatres around the globe, including London’s Hammersmith Apollo, Williamstown Theatre Festival and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Highlights include the stage adaptations of Disney’s “High School Musical” 1 and 2; “Whida Peru,” with a score by Josh Schmidt; and “The Screams of Kitty Genovese,” a rock-opera with a score by Will Todd. David also wrote the libretto for Pulitzer Prize-winner Aaron J. Kernis’ millennium symphony, “Garden Of Light.” David Simpatico joined American Lyric Theater’s Composer Librettist Development Program as a resident artist in 2010. David attended at Northwestern University and received his Masters of Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University.
About Chicago Opera Theater
Chicago Opera Theater (COT) is a nationally recognized opera company based in Chicago, now in its 45th season. COT expands the tradition of opera as a living art form, with an emphasis on Chicago premieres, including new contemporary operas for a 21st century audience.
In addition to its programmed mainstage season, COT is devoted to the development and production of new opera in the United States through the Vanguard Initiative, launched in the Spring of 2018. The Vanguard Initiative mentors emerging opera composers, invests time and talent in new opera at various stages of the creative process and presents the Living Opera Series to showcase new and developing work.
Since its founding in 1973 by Alan Stone, COT has staged more than 125 operas, including over 65 Chicago premieres and more than 35 operas by American composers.
COT is led by Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson General Director Douglas R. Clayton and Orli and Bill Staley Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya. As of fall 2018, Maestro Yankovskaya is the only woman with the title Music Director at any of the top 50 opera companies in the United States. COT currently performs at the Studebaker Theater (Michigan & Congress) and the Harris Theater for Music & Dance (Michigan & Randolph).
For more information on the Chicago Opera Theater and its programs please visit chicagooperatheater.org.