Summer King - some thanks

With today’s announcement that Pittsburgh Opera will present the staged World Premiere of my opera, The Summer King, it seems to me a new blog post is in order.

I will write more substantive words later. For now I just want to acknowledge several key people for their role in making this momentous day come to pass. 

Sean Gibson, Josh’s great grandson, runs the Josh Gibson Foundation in Pittsburgh. They do tremendous work for the community, particularly for the city’s young people. The Foundation also plays a central role in keeping Josh’s legacy alive in the city and beyond. I am so fortunate to have had Sean as a partner in this project for nearly ten years. He has lent material support (most particularly with wonderful images of Josh), has told me countless family stories, and generally been as generous as I could have ever hoped. It is very important to me that Josh’s family feel that he is fairly treated and accurately represented, and with Sean’s collaboration this is an attainable goal. 

My original collaborator on the libretto was poet Dan Nester, who contributed much fine work and bounced ideas around with me with vigor in the early going. Some of his excellent writing remains in the finished opera. 

I have received additional and exceptional help on the libretto from the very accomplished librettist Mark Campbell, whose tough love has been pivotal as I work to complete a substantial revision of the 2014 version of the opera. Matt Gray, at AOP, has a been an integral voice in this process as well.

Steve Osgood was involved in the opera from its very beginnings, back in 2003, to the concert world premiere in Portland, Maine in 2014. He is a veritable wonder, and his contribution to the work is incalculably deep. 

Charity Wicks, as vocal coach, associate conductor, and rehearsal AND recording pianist has been on so many occasions a source of calm and confidence. (And she’s the best sight reader I’ve ever seen). 

Elizabeth Scott, who when I met her was a vice president at Major League Baseball by day, and an opera conductor by night, conducted several important workshops of the opera, and has been a very valued advisor through the years. 

Lemuel Wade brought a generous, creative spirit and an unfailing calm to this project - which was sorely needed in some of the most chaotic and terrifying moments. Lem was the stage director for the Portland performance, and he gave a new meaning and depth to “semi-staged.” Sadly, Lem did not survive the year after the performance, and we lost him much too soon. He will always hold a special place in my heart. 

Ned Canty met with me numerous times during the earlier development of the piece when I was desperately trying to craft, (and re-craft) the treatment for the opera, and also directed the first ever complete libretto reading of the piece, a decade ago at Symphony Space in New York. 

All of the singers who have sung in workshops and/or the concert premiere, have brought the characters to life for me and illustrated the strength and weaknesses of the material, oftentimes expanding my original conception of the roles. There are too many to name, but I can’t not mention Leon Brown, Candice Hoyes, Robert Hoyt, Patrick Miller, Kenneth Kellogg, Martin Bakari, Christian Figueroa, Kyle Guillermo, Cameo Humes, Matthew LaBerge, Stephanie McGuire, Jason McKinney, Nicole Mitchell, Lori-Kaye Miller, Kenneth Overton, Gregory Rahming, Rishi Ranes, Lynn Randolph, Aaren Rivard, Stephen Salters, Malcolm Smith, Anthony Turner, Jorell Williams, and Josh Witham.

Bob Russell, director of the USM Chamber Singers, lent me his group and his talent for an important early demo of the Mexican scene.

Charles Jarden, diretor of American Opera Projects, has been a tireless supporter of the opera and friend to me for over a decade, and has played a major role in bringing it to the attention of the larger opera community. 

Opera America gave the work pivotal exposure by featuring it in several workshops in January 2014, which first brought the project to the attention of Pittsburgh Opera. 

Fort Worth Opera, under the leadership of Darren K. Woods, selected The Summer King for inclusion in its first ever Frontiers festival of new, unpublished American opera in 2013. This first dose of national recognition played a very important role in generating the momentum for all that was to come (plus it was a great experience). 

The Corporation of Yaddo awarded me a pivotal residency in 2011, during which I completed theoriginal piano-vocal score of the work. 

The University of Southern Maine has gone to exceptional lengths to support this work, including sponsoring a successful NEA application, awarding me several fellowships and now a sabbatical, all to ensure that I have sufficient time to complete the piece (both the original version, and now the revision). Specific nods go to my former dean, Lynn Kuzma, my current one, Adam Tuchinsky, and the former and current directors of the School of Music, Scott Harris and Alan Kaschub. Many of the fine musicians at the Merrill Auditorium Premiere were USM faculty members, and they played the challenging score with grace, musicality, and precision. The staff of the school of music too, particularly Chris Alden Kinne, Binney Brackett, and Lori Arsenault, have been amazing colleagues in navigating this journey. 

It is also essential that I mention the team of USM students who worked with me toward the original Portland premiere, some of whom have been helping me in the aftermath. The team included Emma Clarke, Jimmy Dority, Josh Newton, Jordan Guerette and Roy MacNeil, and since 2013 has been lead by the tireless Aaron Clarke, who has picked up the business of preparing contemporary opera materials with mesmerizing speed and has emerged as an important advisor to me in the process (as well as having become a terrific composer in his own right). 

Of course the National Endowment for the Arts Opera Artworks division, then under the supervision of Wayne Brown, did us a great service with their award. 

Over 100 Kickstarter supporters at various levels leapt generously and quickly to this opera’s support when other avenues of fundraising had been exhausted. 

The Maine Arts Commission has supported the project in numerous ways, including awarding me a grant that allowed for a full-fledged demo of the Mexican scene in 2012. 

The Bob Crewe Foundation gave us generous support at another critical moment - there were so many. 

Margaret Wilkis was resourceful, imaginative, and ultimately successful and helping us reach our overall fundraising goal. She was also always a joy to work with. 

My deepest gratitude is retained for Portland Ovations, and particularly their visionary leader, Aimée Petrin. In 2013, Aimée decided to venture into the realm of contemporary opera in a major way, selecting the Summer King to be the grand finale of the 2013-14 Portland Ovations season. To date, no one has taken a bigger chance, or garnered for the piece a greater reward, than Aimée in this blind, beautiful leap of faith. The full concert performance at Merrill in 2014 was not only a major factor in selling the idea of the opera to Pittsburgh, but also contributed to the opera’s exposure and viability in ways that are too numerous to list. Ovatations’ hope was always that this opera would go on to have a greater life, and not culminate in a single performance (even if that performance remains the greatest night of my life to date). The most gratifying aspect of the current announcement and plan for a staged premiere is that Aimée and the team at Ovations can know their gamble paid off in tremendous way, and that their organization helped give birth to a work now beginning its life on the national stage. I clearly have shortage of words on this, so I’ll stop now.

Lastly, how can I express the multitudes of my gratitude for Pittsburgh Opera, and particularly their fearless leader, Christopher Hahn. Another general director might sign on to do a stripped down version of the opera in a secondary house… 8 instruments and 4 singers, sock puppets. Christopher knew from the start what the scope of this piece was, and never saw it going anywhere other than Pittsburgh’s majestic Benedum Theatre. It was my fervent hope that Pittsburgh Opera would recognize just what this story could mean for the city, and why it was such a good piece to bring there - to make there. I am so excited and truly honored to have the opportunity to present this piece to the people of Pittsburgh, and I am humbled to my core by Pittsburgh Opera’s bold and dazzling leap of faith. With great risk comes great reward, and I am so eager to set about keeping my end of the bargain!