New Opera Workshop
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, and now taught by gifted poet, critic, scholar and librettist Julie Kane. Third-year MFA candidates in poetry all take this course as their final 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 the 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 Laura Stuckey (Poetry MFA '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 (Poetry MFA '12). We presented this one-act opera in its entirety, with a chamber orchestra and conductor Benjamin Makino.
Our third production, in 2017, was Act I of Lottie Silks, by Jay Parrotta, with libretto by Enid Holden (MA '17). Jay and Enid have worked closely with Music Director Benjamin Makino and Stage Director Andrew Sellon to revise the work. We present Act II this year.
The Graduate Program in Creative Writing is honored that artists from Central City Opera have 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. In 2017, 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.
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.
Lottie Silks is two-act opera set in a parlor house and other locations in Gunnison, Colorado in 1882. It is inspired by a true Western love story. This year, Writing the Rockies New Opera Workshop will be presenting Act II, in piano reduction. Act I was workshopped at WTR in 2017.
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. Lottie takes up painting to fill the lonely hours. Later, she falls ill and Adela exchanges her medication with poison. Lottie dies in Herman’s arms. Adela claims it is suicide, but with a little help from the townsfolk, Adela’s guilt is discovered and she is isolated. Lottie’s spirit returns to Herman, affirming she will wait for him.
Act I: In scene one, Roland, a German immigrant, and his business partner, Herman, 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. Just as they are about to close up shop, Mrs. Bennett, the banker’s wife, appears and proves impossible to please. Roland and Herman head off to the parlor house, leaving their assistant Harry behind to close up. Mrs. Bennett returns to find her hat and meets Adela, Roland’s wife. She slights her and leaves. Adela is exasperated to find her husband has snuck off again. Just them Lottie, one of the dancers, enters the store. Adela takes out her frustrations on Lottie by scorning her. Lottie stands up for herself, saying one of the owners of the butcher shop is a favored admirer of hers. Scene two takes place at the parlor house. Roland, who is unhappily married to Adela, has an ongoing liaison with Gisela, a courtesan and close friend of Lottie’s. Herman waits for his turn to dance with Lottie, then surprises her by proposing marriage. After a man is killed fighting to dance with Lottie, Lottie decides to accept Herman’s proposal and promise of a better life, despite protestations from both Roland and Gisela as the curtain falls.
Act II: In scene one, Adela, Roland’s insecure, social-climbing wife, alerts the townswomen of the disreputable marriage, and urges them to boycott the wedding feast. In scene two, when no guests arrive, the couple vow to ignore the slight, and reaffirm their love. In scene three, Lottie goes to the miner’s masked ball incognito, beautifully attired, to prove her grace and worth to the townspeople. The townsmen crown Lottie belle of the ball, but when she reveals her identity, Adela rips the crown off her head and demands she leave. In scene four, isolated by the town, Lottie has taken up painting to fill the lonely hours, a pastime shared by the untalented Adela. Herman arrives with news: one of Lottie’s paintings is bought by a museum (sparking Adela’s fury). Lottie feels ill and Herman brings the Doctor. In scene five, Harry picks up the prescription from the pharmacist, but Adela manages to swap the medicine with poison. In scene six, Herman administers it to Lottie, who falls deathly ill in his arms. When the townspeople arrive to find out what happened, Adela tries to persuade them it’s suicide and Lottie should not be buried in the consecrated churchyard. Harry figures out what really happened with the help of the Pharmacist and the Doctor. Roland is mortified and disavows Adela. With her dying breath, Lottie forgives her, but the townspeople ostracize Adela and she becomes the true outsider. Lottie’s spirit returns, and she promises Herman she will wait for him.
Enid Holden is a writer who has experience in many forms — as a singer-songwriter, playwright, columnist, book reviewer and librettist. Her undergraduate degree is from Rhodes University in Fine Arts and English Literature. She also holds an Honors degree in History of Art from the University of South Africa and was formerly an adjunct professor of History of Art at KwaZulu-Natal University. She completed a BA in Music at Western Colorado University in classical voice and sang in the chorus of the Crested Butte Music Festival for four consecutive years. She was selected as a performer in the Johanna Meier Young Artist program.
Holden completed an MA in Creative Writing in 2017 from Western Colorado University School of Graduate Studies. She has written three short plays, which have been produced at festivals. She also wrote the book and directed the premier of Getting it Wright, a musical comedy on the Wright Brothers. She wrote the libretto of Lottie Silks, composed by Justus (Jay) Parrotta, work-shopped in Washington, DC, as part of the New Voices program at the Catholic University of America and at Writing the Rockies, 2017. She has written a second libretto entitled The Teardrop Tiara, also set by Justus Parrotta. She is currently enrolled as a genre fiction student in the Creative Writing MFA at Western Colorado University and is working on a novel.
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.
Conductor / Pianist
Margaret Siegrist (Gisela, Mrs. Bennett, Chorus) is a Colorado mezzo-soprano praised for her acting prowess and appealing vocal color. Recent roles include Dorabella in Così fan tutte with Boulder Opera Company’s Boulder Arts Week production, Cherubino in Le nozze di Figaro with University of Northern Colorado in collaboration with Livermore Valley Opera and Dinah in UNC’s Trouble in Tahiti. Siegrist made her professional debut in Germany as Zweite Dame in Mozart’s DieZauberflöte and covered Prince Orlofsky in Die Fledermaus with Opera Classica Europa, 2016. She also champions arts engagement and education, touring with Central City Opera’s education ensemble, regularly performing with Opera on Tap and appearing in community performances with Boulder Opera and Opera Fort Collins. Siegrist is a professional chorister with Opera Colorado. She earned her master’s in Voice Performance at University of Northern Colorado under Dr. Melissa Malde. When she isn’t onstage, Margaret works as a marketing consultant and education program coordinator with local opera companies.