Peabody Opera Department presents

Contrafact, Contrafiction

a program of short new operas
Christopher Bassett, Bernadette Brennan, Hee-Seung Choi,
Damon Ferrante, Angel Lam, Jeffrey Lindon, and Paul Nelson


Roger Brunyate, program director

JoAnn Kulesza, music director

John Bowen and Roger Brunyate, stage directors


Tuesday–Wednesday, April 29–30, 2003, at 7:30 PM
Theatre Project, 45 West Preston Street, Baltimore
Admission free, but space is limited

The 2003 edition of the Opera Études program will premiere a record number of nine short operas which explore the interface between fact and fiction. A group of these pieces (by Hee-Seung Choi, Jeffrey Lindon, and Paul Nelson) center around celebrated figures in the real world — in these cases, Van Gogh, Galileo, and Monica Lewinsky — and develop fictional scenarios with the aim of better understanding the people. Christopher Bassett takes another historical character, Joan of Arc, but treats her as the subject of a delusion. Bernadette Brennan and Angel Lam take the real social issues of class and poverty, and examine them in very different ways: the one set in an American vernacular idiom, the other told as an Asian fable. The remaining composer, Damon Ferrante, explores the possibility of human cloning.

Beyond the Rainbow, by Angel Lam, is based on a Chinese fable. A wealthy man takes a young female servant who in turn persuades him to give charity to a young beggar. But the man suffers a financial reversal which sends him into exile with his faithful servant. Many years later, on his return, he finds that his property has been looked after for him by the former beggar. The opera is scored for piano and a double-bass player, who also provides the narration. Catherine Green, Peter Lee (alternating tenor and countertenor), and Ryan Stadler are the singers.

Bright Joy of Understanding is the opening scene of a projected full-length opera by Jeffrey Lindon about Galileo Galilei. He invents a fictional daughter for the famous scientist, a girl named Chiara, who does not go into a convent like her historical elder sister, but becomes a searcher after truth like her father. In this scene, her dying mother, married to another man, tells her 16-year-old daughter who her father is. The opera has been conceived orchestrally, but the scene will be performed with piano. Emily Noël and Valerie Rogotzke are the singers.

Double Damn! by Damon Ferrante with text by Michael Vagnetti, develops the theme of cloning in a surreal contemporary setting. Two women, a mother and her cloned but estranged daughter, meet in a bail bond office. Their negotiation is complicated by the realization that they share the same personality, and that each might be in the other’s shoes. Nicole Farbes-Lyons and Evelyn Trester portray the two women. The opera is scored for piano and percussion.

Janine of Newark, by Christopher Bassett with text by Emily Noël, takes place in a stalled elevator in a modern office building. A businesswoman, frantic at missing her various appointments, is confronted by a man who speaks as though he were Joan of Arc, in a mixture of antique English and church Latin. Delusional or not, his/her visions eventually have their effect on Janine. Jessica Hanel and Steven Ziegler are the singers.

Kitchen Talk, by Bernadette Brennan, is another fable, but with a contemporaneously relevant setting. An older African cook and a younger servant are preparing a meal in an embassy kitchen for a group of men who are planning an upcoming war. The one woman in the meeting comes into the kitchen on a pretext, and expresses her exasperation with the offstage men. But when the cook challenges her to put her complaints into action, she grows angry and storms out. Erin Firnhaber, Erin Riley, and Nakia Verner comprise the cast.

Monica and Linda, by Paul Nelson, uses a text drawn from the actual transcript of the secret recordings which Linda Tripp made of her conversations with Monica Lewinsky. The opera portrays several moments towards the end of their relationship when Linda becomes increasingly appalled by what she is hearing, and Monica eventually realizes that she has been betrayed. The opera is scored for piano, with President Clinton being represented by an obbligato saxophone. J.J. Hobbs and Melanie Zayas are the singers.

The Painter in Gethsemane by Hee-Seung Choi, with text by Andrew Albin (who wrote two of the texts in the Women and Memory program in 2001), portrays an imaginary exchange between Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin when they were sharing a studio in Arles. A difference in outlook between the two painters leads to a crisis in Van Gogh’s developing mania. Michael Janney and Robert Maril are the singers.

Looking for further information?