May 4, 2015

Lewis Center for the Arts’ Princeton Atelier presents Thirteen Ways of Looking at Comic Opera

The Lewis Center for the Arts will present Thirteen Ways of Looking at Comic Opera, a culminating presentation from a Princeton Atelier/Music course, “Making (Comic) Opera.” Revisiting the genre of comic opera, the event includes a workshop reading of an excerpt of Andrew Lovett’s The Analysing Engine directed by Rinde Eckert and performed by Princeton students, along with work devised by the student-participants. Performances will take place on Friday, May 8 at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday, May 9 at 3:00 p.m. in the Rockefeller College Common Room on the Princeton University Campus and are free and open to the public.

The Analysing Engine is set in a university laboratory and follows a scientist, her assistant, and four student volunteers as they test out a machine designed to measure the emotional connection between couples. The current version of the opera was written by Lovett for the voices of students within the course and includes contribution of scenes by director Eckert.

students rehearse

Photo by Justin Goldberg

Work devised by the class includes Thirteen Figs, which tells the story of a composer trying to compose a comic opera, taking inspiration from a bowl of figs. Thirteen Figs represents the culminating work of students in the course, which explored three comic operas by Mozart and Da Ponte, The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, and Cosi Fan Tutte, in order to understand how comic opera, a genre that has been largely eclipsed in the past century by musical theater in the United States, is made and performed. Students investigated the opera buffa tradition, the commedia tradition, and the way that Mozart and Da Ponte consciously fused elements from these “low” art forms with elements from “high” art. The class also received a visit from artist Pat Oleszko, whose work ranges from the popular art forums of the street, party, burlesque house, beauty contest and parade, to performances at the Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center, and her annual appearance in the New York Easter parade.

The class consists largely of aspiring opera singers and composers including Erika Baikoff ’16, Alyson Beveridge ’16, Sebastian Cox’18, Sam Kaseta ’15, Lisa Kim ’15, Stephanie Leotsakos ’16, Michael Manning ’17, Aryeh Nussbaum Cohen ’15, and Heather O’Donovan ’16. Cohen, a countertenor, premiered a piece written especially for him by Lovett earlier this spring.

Andrew Lovett is a composer with a special interest in opera and music theatre, especially combined with electroacoustic technology. He was born in Glasgow, Scotland, in 1962 and grew up in London. He studied at Cambridge University, The Guildhall School of Music and Drama and City University, London. He worked as a freelance composer for many years, specializing in chamber music, electroacoustic music, opera, music theatre and music for theatre. In 2009, Lovett moved to the U.S. and joined the Department of Music at Princeton as a Professional Specialist and Lecturer. Lovett’s works include Voyage (1997) for ensemble and electroacoustic music; Abraham on Trial (2005), an opera for five singers; and Lonely Sits the City (2009) for solo voice and surround sound electronics. Lovett also recently scored a feature-film, Wreckers, which was premiered at the London Film Festival in October 2011.

Rinde Eckert, finalist for the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Drama, is a writer, composer, performer and director. Eckert began his career as a writer and performer, writing librettos for composer Paul Dresher and composing dance scores for choreographers Margaret Jenkins and Sarah Shelton Mann. His first music theater piece was The Gardening of Thomas D in 1992, an homage to Dante. His work includes the Obie Award-winning And God Created Great Whales (2001) produced by The Foundry Theatre; Highway Ulysses (2003) and Orpheus X (2006), both produced and commissioned by American Repertory Theatre; Horizon (2005), a play with music and song, which ran Off-Broadway at the New York Theatre Workshop throughout June 2007; and An Idiot Divine, an evening of two one-act solo operas. He has received many honors for his work, including two Critics Circle Awards and two Isadora Duncan Awards; a special Obie Award and two Drama Desk Award nominations in New York for And God Created Great Whales; and Boston’s Eliot Norton Award for Best Production by a Large Resident Company (Highway Ulysses). Eckert received the 2005 Marc Blitzstein Award given annually by The American Academy of Arts and Letters to a lyricist and librettist. Eckert was also the recipient of a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship. He is a Visiting Lecturer at Princeton and has previously taught in the Lewis Center’s Program in Theater.

The Princeton Atelier was founded by Princeton Professor Emerita Toni Morrison and is directed by Paul Muldoon, Princeton’s Howard G.B. Clark ’21 Professor in the Humanities and Professor of Creative Writing. This unique academic program brings together professional artists from different disciplines to create new work in the context of a semester-long course. A painter might team with a composer, a choreographer might join with an electrical engineer, a company of theater artists might engage with environmental scientists, or a poet might connect with a videographer. Princeton students have an unrivaled opportunity to be directly involved in these collaborations.

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