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The Music of Reconciliation

Roger Brunyate re-introduces The Reunion and Perlimplín

The Reunion & Perlimplín at Peabody, February 2 & 3, 2004

Other essays by Roger Brunyate

On February 2 and 3, the Peabody Chamber Opera will present a double-bill of one-act operas which have both been seen at Peabody before, and which share the common theme of reconciliation. In most other respects they are quite different. The Reunion has a contemporary milieu (contemporary, at least, to the time of its composition); it was written to my own libretto by a Peabody composer, Daniel Crozier; and its subject is friendship and maturity. Perlimplín takes place in the eighteenth century; it is a setting by Curtis Institute composer Kam Morrill of a play by Federico García Lorca; its subject is sexual passion and the mystique of youth.

Poster for The Reunion  
The Reunion
Photo-collage by Roger Brunyate
The Reunion, written around 1988, grew directly out of the Opera Étude program (which still continues to this day) in that the dramatic interaction of the characters was developed largely through improvisation. Daniel Crozier had already collaborated with me on a very short piece, Leaving Home, and we both wanted to try our hands at a larger work whose overall structure would be predetermined, but which could contain numerous short elements of étude length, reflecting the participation of the many singers who contributed to it. The setting is the ten-year reunion of a group of five women friends from a small midwestern college, interspersed with flashbacks in which they relive the jealousies and betrayals of that former time, and painfully come to terms with what they have made of their lives since graduation.

Since his own graduation, Daniel Crozier, of course, went on to write the award-winning opera With Blood, With Ink, and is now a professor at Rollins College in Florida. I myself have gone on to write many more libretti which are, frankly, more wholly successful than this one. Coming back to it now, however, I am amazed at the freshness of the numerous exchanges which we transcribed from three days of improvisation with the students, and proud of my text for several of the arias and ensembles. But I am a little embarrassed by the seventies idealism of its message, especially since some important tenets of the characters’ liberal activist creed – a return to basic human values – have since been hijacked by the Republicans as their exclusive property!

  Scene from the 1998 production of Perlimplin
Scene from the 1998 production
Arturo Chacón (Perlimplín) and Pamela Hay (Belisa)
Seattle-based composer Kam Morrill, a student of Ned Rorem’s, developed his one-act version of the Lorca play at the Curtis Institute in 1989. The Peabody Chamber Opera presented a revised version at Theatre Project in 1998, when it won the prize for best new music of the season. The present production will incorporate further extensive revisions by the composer. Morrill matches Lorca’s combination of lightness and surrealism, comedy and pathos, with a score containing both harpsichord and saxophone, that looks back at the eighteenth century from the idiom of the present day.

Lorca’s Don Perlimplín, a bachelor in his fifties, is persuaded by his servant Marcolfa to marry. She picks upon the beautiful Belisa, whom Perlimplín has glimpsed dressing and undressing through the balcony window opposite his house, and the older man strikes up an arrangement with the girl’s mother (a hilarious role for countertenor) to marry her. She is visited on their wedding night, however, by five younger men. Reaching for the only way to consummate his love for his wife, Perlimplín disguises himself as another younger suitor, makes an assignation with Belisa in her garden, and kills himself in her arms.

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