‘Our Town,’ the opera
PETERBOROUGH: Monadnock Music presents work by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ned Rorem on Sunday
Gil Rose will direct and conduct Monadnock Music's performance of Ned Rorem's "Our Town," an opera adaptation of Thornton Wilder's play, on Aug. 11 at the Peterborough Town House.
Soprano Margot Rood will sing the role of Emily Webb in Monadnock Music's performance of the opera "Our Town" in the Peterborough Town House on Aug. 11
Brendan Buckley and Margot Rood, who will portray the young couple in love in "Our Town" at a rehearsal in Boston on Tuesday.
Photo by Will Chapman
Creating an opera based on Thornton Wilder’s classic play “Our Town” took years.
“After the play was written, there was a movie version made,” says Monadnock Music Artistic Director Gil Rose. “Thornton Wilder evidently really hated the movie. Subsequently, he controlled a lot of the productions of the play. He played the stage manager himself for decades. A lot of requests to create an opera were all denied. Even Leonard Bernstein was turned down.”
It wasn’t until 2001, 26 years after Wilder’s death, that his family finally entertained the idea of an opera. Five years later, “Our Town,” with music by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ned Rorem and a libretto by J.D. McClatchy, had its first performance in a production by the Indiana University Opera. And on Sunday — which is Medal Day at the MacDowell Colony, where both Wilder and Rorem were MacDowell Fellows — Rose will be conducting Monadnock Music’s production of “Our Town” at the Peterborough Town House.
“It’s a bit daunting since [the play] has been performed in Peterborough so many times,” Rose said recently. “There are a lot of people looking over our shoulders.”
Rose, who will be directing the opera as well as conducting, said the story of small-town life in New Hampshire in the early 20th century has special qualities that made it a perfect choice for an opera.
“The play is rather spare, has very archetypical characters,” Rose said. “It leaves a lot of open space and the opera holds true to that. It has a small orchestra. It’s not a lush or complex score. The music really illuminates the drama.”
The familiar plot revolves around two families in the fictional town of Grover’s Corners, which was clearly inspired by Peterborough. Under the guidance of an omniscient stage manager, the audience sees the routines of life, as George Gibbs and Emily Webb grow up together, fall in love and marry each other, and death, with the final act set in the town cemetery.
“Like any opera, if you took the entire text of a play and set every bit, you’d have a very long evening,” Rose said. “[McClatchy] tightened it up a bit, but the essential story is the same.”
The ensemble cast includes tenor Matthew DiBattista as the stage manager, soprano Margot Rood as Emily Webb and tenor Brendan Buckley as George Gibbs.
“I wanted to cast singers with beautiful voices that were also appropriate to the roles,” Rose said. “I tried to cast for both voices and appearance. I’m asking the singers to take any heroic quality out of their voices. This is an opera that needs clear voices, clear vision, a simple delivery. It’s plain and direct.”
Rose said the opera, like most productions of the play, won’t have elaborate scenery.
“In the Peterborough Town House, we’re in Our Town central. I’m trying to use the room itself as the set,” he said. “The characters will be up front, not on the stage, and moving within the audience.”
The opera will be performed at the Town House at 4 p.m., as MacDowell Medal Day activities are winding down.
General admission tickets are $27. Student tickets are $10. Tickets may be ordered online at www.monadnockmusic.org.
Dave Anderson can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s on Twitter at @DaveAndersonMLT.