New Opera Workshop

In 2015, Writing the Rockies inaugurated the New Opera Workshop, currently one of only several dozen such workshops in America.

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 were performers in our first two years. 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. 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 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.

Director

 

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.

Principal Singers

 

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"

Introduction

Performance

Q&A

2016: "The Price of Pomegranates"

Introduction

Performance

Q&A

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