Opera Philadelphia and Santa Fe Opera Present World Premiere of OSCAR
Opera Philadelphia Board Chairman Daniel K. Meyer, M.D. and General Director & President David B. Devan will join some 25 Opera Philadelphia Patrons and staff members this week to celebrate the World Premiere of Oscar, composer Theodore Morrison's opera in two acts based on the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde. Jointly commissioned by The Santa Fe Opera and Opera Philadelphia, Oscar premieres on Saturday, July 27, in Santa Fe and makes its East Coast Premiere at the Academy of Music in February 2015.
Charismatic countertenor David Daniels stars as Wilde, described as “one of English literature's foremost gay icons” by Opera News. The opera has also generated buzz recently for being, according to The Denver Post, “the first major opera where one man professes his love for another man.”
Oscar got its start thanks to a backstage conversation in May 2004. “I was in England for the London premiere of my James Joyce song cycle, Chamber Music, which I had composed for the great countertenor David Daniels,” Morrison recalls. “John Cox came backstage afterward to greet David, and then introduced himself to me, saying how much he had enjoyed the song cycle. He asked, ‘Have you composed any operas?’ I replied, ‘No, but I would certainly like to write an opera for David!’ He said, "Then you must. I'm an opera director. Here's my email address. Please be in touch should you want to talk more about that possibility.’”
The two met in San Francisco that September, where Cox was directing Cosi fan Tutte. By this time, Daniels was on board with the idea of starring in an opera based on Wilde’s life. “Both John and I read the great Richard Ellmann biography of Wilde that summer, so when we got together we both were excited about the subject. After two years of email exchanges and my spending a month in Oxford and London working with John, we decided to co-author a libretto based on writings of Wilde and his contemporaries. We were off and running – slowly.”
They focused their work on Wilde’s 1895 trial and imprisonment for “gross indecency.” Wilde’s last work, the poem The Ballad of Reading Gaol, describes his ordeal and the savagery of the prison system he endured. It was a source for the libretto, as were conversations, letters and documents spoken or written by his contemporaries. Characters in the opera include Wilde’s friend and supporter Ada Leverson (to be sung by Heidi Stober), Walt Whitman (Dwayne Croft), and Frank Harris (William Burden). Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred (Bosie) Douglas, will be portrayed by a non-singing dancer, who haunts Oscar's imagination throughout the opera.
Morrison describes the story as “intense, but illuminated by shafts of grim humor.”
"As part of our research, John communicated with his friend Merlin Holland, grandson of Oscar Wilde and one of the important contemporary scholars of Wilde,” Morrison said. “We wanted to create a stage work that presents a fresh and provocative take on the subject. Most accounts of the fall of Oscar Wilde present him as victim. We embrace him as hero.”
“I am hoping that Oscar will be the highlight of my career,” said Daniels. “I have always said that new music is going to be essential for the evolution of the countertenor voice to continue and to have staying power. This opera answers that imperative with a strong, appealing character and wonderfully compelling music.”