New Opera Workshop

In 2015, Writing the Rockies inaugurated the New Opera Workshop, currently one of only several dozen such workshops in America and one of only a handful that focuses on the creation of new libretti.

Join us this year, on Friday, July 21, at 4 pm in the Taylor Hall Studio Theater, for our third workshop, in which we will present Act I of Lottie Silks, by Jay Parrotta, with libretto by Enid Holden (MA '17).

The workshop grows out of a course on the writing of libretti designed and taught by poet, librettist, critic, editor, rare book dealer and Poetry Concentration Director Ernest Hilbert, who will introduce the workshop and lead the conversation about the opera afterwards. Third-year MFA candidates in poetry at Western take Professor Hilbert's course as their summer intensive, and not only study the history of opera, but also draft an original libretto.

Over the last several years, Western Poetry MFA alumni who have taken Hilbert's class have successfully begun to seek out composers to score their work, and as a result we conceived the idea to bring these new operas to the public in a workshop format. A vital creative culture requires not just intense and sustained study and practice, but also ways to help bring new art to fruition. In the case of opera, that means opening the doors to full production of new work, a long process. Given the strong resources for opera in Colorado, we thought we could find a way to begin to do this, and we were correct.

Our inaugural 2015 opera workshop was The Audubon Dream, by Karen E. Peace, with libretto by Western Poetry MFA alumna Laura Stuckey '13. We presented the first act of this two-act opera in piano reduction, oratorio-style.

Our second production, in 2016, was The Price of Pomegranates, by Jerome Malek, with libretto by Susan Spear (MFA '12). We presented this one-act opera in its entirety, with a chamber orchestra and conductor.

Central City Opera Logo
The Graduate Program in Creative Writing is honored that artists from Central City Opera heve been performers in all of our workshops to date. In 2015 these were soprano Emily Murdock and lyric baritone Dr. Adam Ewing. In 2016, the Central City artists included mezzo soprano Tracy Kaufman and lyric baritone Tom Stizler. This year, the five Central City artists include sopranos Stephanie Ball and Ruth L. Carver, tenor Eapen Leubner, baritone Tom Sitzler, and tenor Joshua Zabatta. Central City is one of the preeminent opera organizations in America and we count ourselves fortunate to enjoy participation of their singers in our workshop. You can read their bios below, and see our event on the Central City Opera website here.

Our hope is that the excellence all the artists bring to this workshop will give the composers and librettists the opportunity to continue developing their material and move towards fully produced performances with regional and national companies. Please join us for this exciting premiere.

Synopsis of Lottie Silks

Lottie Silks is a full-length opera in three acts, set in a parlor house in Gunnison, Colorado in 1885, inspired by a true Western love story. The Writing the Rockies New Opera Workshop will be presenting Act I, in piano reduction.

Précis

Herman, a butcher, falls in love with a paid dancing girl, Lottie, in a parlor house and marries her. His business partner’s wife, Adela, persuades the townsfolk that the match is not respectable. No-one  attends the wedding feast and Lottie continues to be spurned, even though she wins the crown anonymously at a miners’ ball. Later, Lottie falls ill and Adela exchanges her medication with poison. Lottie dies in Herman’s arms. Adela claims it’s suicide, but Herman is able to persuade the town of Lottie’s innocence. They repent and Adela is suspected and isolated.

Synopsis

Act I: Herman, a German immigrant, and his business partner, Roland own a butcher shop in Gunnison. The two men frequent a parlor house, where they mingle with the hurdy-gurdy girls, who are paid dancers. Herman falls in love with Lottie, one of the hurdy-gurdies. Roland is married to Adela but he has an ongoing liaison with Gisela, a courtesan of the establishment and a friend of Lottie’s. When Herman marries Lottie against Roland’s advice, Adela, the snobbish wife of Roland, sees to it that the townspeople boycott the wedding feast and continue to shun Lottie.

Act II: Herman hears of a masked miners’ ball coming up and he sends Lottie incognito in a dress of great finery to prove to the community that she is gracious and accomplished. She is crowned the belle of the ball but the ladies find out her identity and rip the crown off her head insisting that she leave. Isolated by the town, Lottie takes up painting to fill the lonely hours, a pastime that Adela shares. One of Lottie’s paintings is bought by a museum, which incites great jealousy in Adela.

Act III: Lottie falls ill one day and Herman sends for the doctor. Adela manages to swap the doctor’s prescribed medicine with poison and Herman administers it to Lottie. She dies in his arms. Adela tries to persuade the townsfolk that this is a suicide and that Lottie should be prevented from being buried in the consecrated churchyard. Herman swears revenge. He sings of Lottie’s virtue and suffering and convinces the people that Adela is wrong, and they all come bearing flowers to the beautiful grave that Herman makes and repent the nasty way in which they treated Lottie. They ostracize the mean-spirited Adela, and start to suspect her role in this, and she finally feels what it is to be an outsider.

Artists

Composer

Jay Parrotta
Justus (Jay) Parrotta is a Fellow of the American Guild of Organists, the highest level of certification granted by the AGO. He has received awards and scholarships for his keyboard skills from the Delaware, District of Columbia, and Northern Virginia Chapters of the American Guild of Organists; National Federation of Music Clubs; National Foundation for the Advancement in the Arts; and West Chester University. He has performed recitals at such venues as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land in America, National City Christian Church, St. Luke’s Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia, and The Washington National Cathedral. He possesses a varied and extensive music background, holding a Bachelor’s Degree in Organ Performance, magna cum laude and a Master’s Degree in Music Composition with a concentration in Concert Music from The Catholic University of America’s Benjamin T. Rome School of Music where he is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Composition. As a composer, his works not only consist of music for keyboard but music for solo instruments, voice, choir, congregation, chamber ensemble, orchestra, opera, electronics, and film; including the critically acclaimed documentary Dakota 38. His music has been heard in Antarctica, Australia, France, Sweden, Zambia, and throughout North America.

Librettist

Enid Holden
Enid Holden, who also serves as Opera Workshop Coordinator, is a member of the Advisory Board for the Poetry Concentration in Western's Graduate program in Creative Writing. She is a singer-songwriter, playwright, writer, lyricist and librettist and holds degrees in Fine Arts, English, History of Art and Theatre. Before moving to Gunnison ten years ago, she served on the board of the Potomac Theatre in Maryland and a member of a professional children’s theatre group. She became an alumna of Western after completing a BA in Music here in 2011. She has had two plays performed in the Western short play festival and has also participated in summer intensives and screenwriting courses in the MFA program at Western.

Enid was nominated for a WAMMY (Washington Area Music Association) award as a recording artist, making her debut with Siya Jika in 2009. Since then she has recorded a solo album and has written the book and lyrics for “Getting It Wright,” a musical comedy about the Wright Brothers. Recently Justus Parotta set her libretto “Lottie Silks,” and it was work shopped in the 2014 Catholic University of America New Voices vocal festival in Washington, DC. She founded the Gunnison Opera Study Group, a community initiative, and sings with the Crested Butte Music Festival chorus annually. She has a local event space, The Fashion Café, where she has hosted Word Horde and other readings. She also writes a column on local culture for The Gunnison Times.

Music Director and Pianist

Ben Makino
Conductor and Pianist Benjamin Makino is the current Music Director at Opera Memphis. Previously he was Assistant Conductor at the Long Beach Opera where he conducted that company’s highly praised productions of David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field, Michael Nyman’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Michael Gordon’s Van Gogh as well as the U.S. premieres of Gavin Bryars’ The Paper Nautilus and Stewart Copeland’s Tell Tale Heart. He also led the U.S. professional premiere of Ernest Bloch’s Macbeth at the Los Angeles harbor. He has previously been a director of the New York based Orchestra INSONICA, and is the founder of the Blackbird Music Project, which presented rarely performed works of vocal chamber music in Orange County, California. Under his leadership the Blackbird Music Project collaborated in a multimedia performance of Pierrot Lunaire with photographer and artist Jeff LeFever, and produced performances of vocal works by Luciano Berio, Marc-André Dalbavie, Tōru  Takemitsu and Dmitri Shostakovich. During the fall of 2012, Ben was the Music Director for Opera Memphis’ 30 Days of Opera, an innovative program of 30 days of free concerts around the greater Memphis metropolitan area, including performances at several local library branches, the Cooper Young Festival, Trolley Night and at various points along the route of The Color Run, in which he ran the 5km course, stopping to perform arias on a portable keyboard that he carried with him during the race.

Ben is a graduate of the Domingo-Cafritz Young Artist Program of the Washington National Opera where he was hand selected by Director Plácido Domingo. He made his main stage debut with that company conducting Hansel and Gretel at the historic Lincoln Theater. Other appearances with the WNO included a sold out run of performances of Così fan Tutte at the Washington National Opera Studio, and concerts at the Opera House of John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the Music Center at Strathmore.  Since relocating to Memphis, he has been a regular guest conductor with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra, and has also appeared with Ballet Memphis, and the New Ballet Ensemble and School. He is the conductor on the recently released recording of Mark Abel’s opera Home is a Harbor, on Delos Records.

Ben completed studies at Chapman University and the University of California, Los Angeles and pursued advanced studies at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy. In 2014 he was identified by Opera America as a future leader in the field of Opera in the United States.

Stage Director

Andrew Sellon
Andrew Sellon teaches the second summer intensive for poetry students, "Performance Skills for Poets," in Western's Graduate Program in Creative Writing. He holds an undergraduate degree in English from Harvard and an MFA in Acting from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His stage performances have been hailed by the New York Times and other newspapers across the country, and he taught acting for two years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His recent film and TV appearances include Begin AgainMamaroshThe SmurfsThe BlacklistThe Mysteries of Laura, The Good Fight, and HBO’s Divorce He is also an accomplished voiceover artist and audiobook narrator. He also has over twenty years of corporate sphere experience in training, facilitating, coaching, and public speaking. This year at Writing the Rockies he also appears in two staged readings, one of his own play Through the Looking-Glass Darkly, or Lewis Carroll and the Pursuit of Innocence, and also in Mike Reiss's play It's All in the Execution, with Sam Robards.

Singers

Stephanie Ball
Lyric coloratura soprano Stephanie Ann Ball (Women's Chorus) holds an undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University and a Master’s Degree in Vocal Performance from Washington University in St. Louis. Following graduate school, she made her professional debut with the role of Annina in Winter Opera St. Louis’ production of La Traviata. A favorite of Midwestern and Southwestern audiences, her operatic roles include Adina in Mid-Ohio Opera’s production of L’elisir D’amore, Frasquita in Boulder Opera’s Carmen and more. She spent two years as a Young Artist for the Bach Society of St. Louis where she developed a passion for oratorio when she performed as a soloist for Mozart’s Requiem. Since then she has performed solos all over the country for Fauré’s Requiem, Poulenc’s Gloria, Saint-Saëns’ Oratorio de Noël, von Weber’s Mass in G, Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate, and many others. She has won many prestigious awards, including district winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions in both Arizona and Kansas City.

Offstage, Ms. Ball continually makes an effort to introduce opera to her community and has done educational outreach with several companies, most notably as a voice teacher for Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ Artist in Training Preparatory Program. Now residing in Denver, Colorado, she is enjoying becoming a part of that musical community as well.

Ruth Carver
Known for her bold characterizations and powerful voice, Denver, Colorado native Ruth L. Carver (Gisela, Mrs. Bennett, Banker's Wife, Madam) is quickly gaining recognition as a soprano on the rise. Her voice is especially suited to Italian and German repertoire, and after a concert with the Elysium Between Two Continents festival in Bernried, Germany, the regional newspaper Münchner Merkur praised her for her "dark, romantic voice" on a program of Liszt lieder, and her performance was singled out for her "truly rich and variegated tone" (kcmetropolis.org). Ms. Carver appeared with New York Lyric Opera Theater in their spring 2015 reduced Ring Cycle. She has won over audiences with dynamic recital programs, and was pleased to perform in concert at the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York in the fall of 2015. Ruth received a 2015 Allied Arts, Inc. career development grant, and has made recent solo appearances with numerous choral groups in Colorado. In 2016, she joined the Central City Opera ensemble in previewing excerpts from Tosca and Later the Same Evening, and recently made her role debut as Donna Anna with Boulder Opera's Don Giovanni. An avid arts advocate, Carver also writes about classical music for online music journals, and has created out-of-the-box opera programs for Opera on Tap and other groups.

Eapin Leubner
With impressive reviews from Opera News, the New York Times and Musical America, tenor Eapen Leubner (Roland) is one of opera's rising stars. Eapen's roles range from Mozart to Donizetti to rarely performed opera (Mahler’s Die Drei Pintos and Herbert’s Sweethearts) and new American opera. He has performed from Alaska to New York to Tirana, Albania. He recently rejoined Boulder Opera for The Firebringers, three short operas by Colorado composer Chappell Kingsland featuring the world premiere of Iwa the Caiman.  He also joined the Central City Opera for En mis parablas and Opera Theatre of the Rockies in The Mikado this year.

A frequent performer in New York City, Eapen made his Carnegie Hall Solo debut with Mid-America Productions and his Brooklyn Academy of Music debut with Encompass New Opera Theatre. In 2015, Eapen  founded the Denver Art Song Project to entertain and educate audiences new to the genre. The group presents lively art song performances incorporating spoken word, video projections and more.  Two new albums will be released in 2017 featuring professional Colorado musicians.  Their music has been featured on Colorado Public Radio and is available on many digital platforms.

Clara Nieman
Praised in Opera News for her "striking mezzo," Clara Nieman (Lottie Silks) appeared in 2016-17 with Kentucky Opera as Suzuki in Madama Butterfly and Pitti-Sing in The Mikado, Crested Butte Music Festival as Zita in Gianni Schicchi and Théodorine in L’île de Tulipatan, Opera Fayetteville’s “Opera in Bloom” new works festival, and the Lexington Philharmonic as mezzo-soprano soloist in Stephen Paulus’ “To Be Certain of the Dawn.” In the 2017-18 season she will debut with Bourbon Baroque and return to Kentucky Opera as Dryade in Ariadne auf Naxos, Jade Boucher in Dead Man Walking, and both Rosina and Berta in Il barbiere di Siviglia.

In recent seasons Clara has sung Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro (Opera Saratoga), Olga in Eugene Onegin (Chautauqua Opera), Flora in La Traviata (Fort Worth Opera, Opera Birmingham, Opera Naples), The Contralto in The Four Note Opera (Opera Naples), the Mother in Hansel and Gretel (Performance Santa Fe), Meg in The Ballad of Baby Doe (Chautauqua Opera), Madeleine Audebert in Silent Night (Fort Worth Opera), and Sor Rosa in With Blood, With Ink (Fort Worth Opera, recorded for Albany Records).

Mandolyn Raper
Mandolyn Raper (Women's Chorus) is a lyric soprano currently in the second year of a Vocal Performance degree from Colorado Mesa University. Mandolyn has been performing for over 15 years. She discovered a deep love for opera at the age of 10 when she was a part of the founding group of singers for the Crested Butte Music Festival Children’s Opera Program. Since then, she has performed in multiple operas, such as La Boheme, Carmen, Die Zauberflöte, and most recently, has played Despina in Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. She has also participated in multiple Opera Scenes programs and will be playing Olympia in CMU’s performance of Pinocchio in the fall.

Tom Sitzler
Tom Sitzler, full lyric baritone (Herman), had a varied background growing up, from being an Eagle Scout to holding a black belt in Judo. In 2009, Mr. Sitzler stepped into the professional opera world as the Old Gypsy (Il Trovatore) with Union Avenue Opera.  Among other notable performances, he has appeared in the title role from Argento's The Boor, where he had a “strong singing style and a good way with comedy” (Ladue News).  Recently, he was seen as Escamillo (Carmen) with Boulder Opera, and Germont (La Traviata) with Painted Sky Opera.  Upcoming performances include Alfio (Cavalleria Rusticana), Lautsprecher (Kaiser von Atlantis), and Scarpia (Tosca). He is an ensemble artist with Central City Opera and this is his second year with the Writing the Rockies New Opera Workshop.

Joshua Zabatta
Tenor Joshua Zabatta (Harry, Drunk, Men's Chorus) never imagined that singing while driving a tractor on a Montana farm, where he grew up, would eventually lead to a promising career in opera. Although originally planning on a career in broadcasting, Joshua was lured into the exciting world of opera after he participated in the Johanna Meier Opera Theatre Institute hosted by Black Hills State University.  Zabatta then went on to pursue his master’s degree in music at Washington University in St. Louis. Since emerging onto the professional scene, Mr. Zabatta has been praised for his dynamic storytelling and his full, warm voice described by audiences as "audible chocolate."  After a concert with the Bach Society of St. Louis, Sarah Bryan Miller of the St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote that “[Mr. Zabatta] is a terrific soloist whose performance was a great benefit to the evening.” Joshua Zabatta has made multiple solo appearances with the Bach Society, including performing the Mozart Requiem. In addition, he served as a soloist in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck with the St. Louis Symphony under the baton of David Robertson. Since moving to Colorado, Mr. Zabatta has given performances throughout the Rocky Mountain region which include the Mass in G by Carl Maria von Weber, Oratorio de Noël by Saint-Saëns, and Beethoven’s Mass in C. More recently, Joshua was seen performing with Opera Colorado as Harry in Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West. Through engagements with Boulder Opera, Mr. Zabatta also added two new roles to his repertoire during the 2016-2017 season: Don José in Bizet’s Carmen and Fernando in Goyescas by Granados.

Production Staff

Enid Holden
Enid Holden, Opera Workshop Coordinator (and this year's librettist), is a member of the Advisory Board for the Poetry Concentration in Western's Graduate program in Creative Writing. She is a singer-songwriter, playwright, writer, lyricist and librettist and holds degrees in Fine Arts, English, History of Art and Theatre. Before moving to Gunnison ten years ago, she served on the board of the Potomac Theatre in Maryland and a member of a professional children’s theatre group. She became an alumna of Western after completing a BA in Music here in 2011. She has had two plays performed in the Western short play festival and has also participated in summer intensives and screenwriting courses in the MFA program at Western.

Enid was nominated for a WAMMY (Washington Area Music Association) award as a recording artist, making her debut with Siya Jika in 2009. Since then she has recorded a solo album and has written the book and lyrics for “Getting It Wright,” a musical comedy about the Wright Brothers. Recently Justus Parotta set her libretto “Lottie Silks,” and it was work shopped in the 2014 Catholic University of America New Voices vocal festival in Washington, DC. She founded the Gunnison Opera Study Group, a community initiative, and sings with the Crested Butte Music Festival chorus annually. She has a local event space, The Fashion Café, where she has hosted Word Horde and other readings. She also writes a column on local culture for The Gunnison Times.

Scott Little
Scott Little, Technical Director of Theatre at Western, is a lighting, sound, and scenery designer also trained in technical direction and production. He has worked at Emory University, The University of South Dakota, Oklahoma State University and Oakland University and has designed more than 100 productions. He has also worked with professional theater companies including Meadowbrook Theatre, The Alliance Theatre, Theater Emory, and the Black Hills Playhouse.
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Alan Wartes
Videographer Alan Wartes is an award-winning Colorado journalist, screenwriter, director and musician. He has also written and directed for the stage for many years. Two of his screenplays have recently been named as finalists in the Nashville Film Festival Screenwriting Competition—the short script for The Tesla Files and another feature called The Bottle Business. He traveled to Nashville in late April for the award ceremony where his screenplays won prizes. The Tesla Files began as a project in one of the summer workshops run by JS Mayank, the Director of the Screenwriting Concentration in Western's Graduate Program in Creative Writing.

All general conference registrations include admission for one person to the New Opera Workshop performance; individual tickets will also be sold at the door on a first-come, first-served basis (no reservations) to the general public for $20, $10/students.

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The embedded videos below present our first two seasons: The Audubon Dream from 2015, and The Price of Pomegranates from 2016. Follow these links to learn more about The Audubon Dream and The Price of Pomegranates.

2015: "The Audubon Dream"

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Performance

Q&A

2016: "The Price of Pomegranates"

Introduction

Performance

Q&A

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