an opera in two acts(2013)
|Text information||Libretto (En) by Kathryn Walat and Gregory Spears based on the short story, "Paul's Case" (1905) by Willa Cather.|
Opera duet text taken from Stephen Crane’s The Black Riders and Other Lines (1896).
|Commission||Paul’s Case was developed by American Opera Projects in part with funds from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts|
|Premiere||April 20, 2013; Artisphere, Arlington, VA; UrbanArias; Robert Wood, conductor|
|Roles||Paul · tenor|
Paul’s Father · baritone
History Teacher/Opera Singer 1/Maid 1 · soprano
Drawing Teacher/Opera Singer 2/Maid 2 · soprano
English Teacher/Maid 3 · mezzo-soprano
Yale Boy · tenor
Principal/Bellboy · bass
|Instrumentation||2S, Mz, 2T, Bar, Bass; 2 clarinets, harp, piano, string quintet|
|Staged performances of this work require licensing.|
In Willa Cather’s remarkable story Paul’s Case (1905) an enigmatic high school student, on the cusp of maturity and with no productive outlet for his artistic energies, cultivates the image of a dandy in response to his middle-class Pittsburgh surroundings. Paul’s interaction with his teachers and his journey to New York culminate in a heartbreaking climax: Paul’s suicide.
In our operatic adaptation, we tried to create an overarching mood that is reflective and expansive, as if the story were being retold in memoriam using Paul’s favorite art forms: music and theater. With recent media accounts of bullying and teenage suicide in the news, we feel that Cather’s tale of a young outcast seems more relevant than ever. It is our hope that the words and music do justice to the story by creating a strong character who reminds us of our own struggle to cope with what Cather calls “the homilies by which the world is run.”
Paul’s music superimposes new and old styles - post-minimal and baroque - in order to explore the defiant and fragile sides of his personality. His vocal lines consist of small melodic fragments repeated with slightly different dramatic accents, illustrating both the lockstep industrial world of early 20th-century Pittsburgh and the doggedness of the tale’s protagonist. In contrast, Paul's teachers often sing in train-whistle-like harmony foreshadowing both Paul's escape to New York and the opera's tragic denouement. Much of the accompanying music in the chamber orchestra is also designed to evoke train-like sounds.