Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Interviews

Anna Prohaska, one of Europe’s most promising sopranos

Anna Prohaska sings Sister Constance in Poulenc’s Dialogues des Carmélites at the Royal Opera House. In the same month, she’s also in London to sing a recital with Eric Schneider at the Wigmore Hall, and to sing Henze with Sir Simon Rattle at the Barbican Hall.

Garsington Opera’s 25th anniversary unites its past with its future

Garsington Opera celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Jean-Paul Scarpitta in Montpellier

I met with the embattled artistic director of the Opéra et Orchestre National de Montepellier not to talk about his battles. I simply wanted to know the man who had cast and staged a truly extraordinary Mozart/DaPonte trilogy.

Interview: Tenor Saimir Pirgu — From Albania to Italy to LA

Maria Nockin interviews tenor Saimir Pirgu.

Matthew Polenzani — Des Grieux, Manon, Royal Opera House

Matthew Polenzani reprises the role of the Chevalier des Grieux in Jules Massenet’s Manon at the Royal Opera House. “I love coming back to London”, he says, “It’s a very good house and they take care of you as a singer. And the level of music making is unbelievably high”.

Maestro Joseph Rescigno Discusses The Flying Dutchman

The Flying Dutchman is a transitional piece because Wagner was only beginning to establish his style. He took some aspects from Carl Maria von Weber and others from Italian composers like Vincenzo Bellini.

Patricia Racette on Dolores Claiborne

On a personal level, I feel that Dolores is almost like Emmeline grown up. Their circumstances are not exactly parallel, but they are both women at very different points in their lives whose stories involve dilemmas with life-changing outcomes.

Tobias Picker Talks About His New Opera Dolores Claiborne

With the help of Andrew Welch, a London theatrical producer who had adapted several of King’s works for the stage, including this one, I got the rights to both Dolores Claiborne and Misery.

Dolora Zajick on New Opera Written for Her

On September 18, 2013, San Francisco Opera will present the world premiere of Tobias Picker’s opera, Dolores Claiborne, which has a libretto by J. D. McClatchy based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name.

Ermonela Jaho — Singing and Character

Ermonela Jaho caused a sensation at Covent Garden in London five years ago, when she took over Violetta at short notice from Anna Netrebko.

Rossini Maometto Secondo at Garsington Opera - David Parry speaks

Garsington Opera at Wormsley is producing the British premiere of Giacomo Rossini´s Maometto Secondo. Garsington Opera is well-known for its role in reviving Rossini rarities in Britain. Since 1994, there have been 14 productions of 12 Rossini operas, and David Parry has conducted eleven since 2002. He´s very enthusiastic about Maometto Secondo.

Michele Mariotti conducts La donna del lago

Rossini’s La donna del Lago at the Royal Opera House boasts a superstar cast. Joyce DiDonato and Juan Diego Flórez are perhaps the best in these roles in the business at this time. Yet the conductor Michele Mariotti is also hot news.

Kate Lindsey at Glyndebourne

It would seem a logical step for the mezzo-soprano Kate Lindsey to take on the role of the Composer in Richard Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos.

Douglas Boyd on Garsington Opera at Wormsley

“Aim for excellence”, says Douglas Boyd, new Artistic Director of Garsington Opera at Wormsley, “and the audience will follow you”.

A Chat with Aida Designer Zandra Rhodes

When I spoke with Zandra Rhodes, she was in her large San Diego workspace, which she described as having walls decorated with her own huge black and white drawings.

An Interview with Virginia Zeani

Palm Beach audiences are famous for their glamour, but in recent years a special star has sparkled amid the jewels, sequins, feathers and furs (whatever the weather).

Bel Canto Queen Jessica Pratt

When the soprano Jessica Pratt first arrived in Italy, she had yet to learn the language or sing in a staged opera.

Michael Spyres: Star Ascendant

When tenor Michael Spyres takes the stage at Carnegie Hall on December 5th, he will be in heady company.

Rewriting the Unwritten Law: Gilliam and Ghent Tackle Damnation

One of the most noteworthy and controversial productions in recent memory arrived in Belgium with hurricane force as Director Terry Gilliam’s inaugural opera, an inspired interpretation of Hector Berlioz’s Le Damnation de Faust, blasted into Ghent, followed by a run in Antwerp.

Florian Boesch on Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin

Florian Boesch is singing Schubert’s Die Schöne Müllerin at the Oxford Lieder Festival on Sunday 14th October. This won’t be routine. Radically challenging conventional interpretation, Boesch says “I don’t believe it ends in suicide”

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Interviews

Tobias Picker [Photo © 2005 Harry Heleotis]
30 Aug 2013

Tobias Picker Talks About His New Opera Dolores Claiborne

With the help of Andrew Welch, a London theatrical producer who had adapted several of King’s works for the stage, including this one, I got the rights to both Dolores Claiborne and Misery.

Tobias Picker Talks About His New Opera Dolores Claiborne

An interview by Maria Nockin

Above: Tobias Picker [Photo © 2005 Harry Heleotis]

 

Tobias Picker has been composing significant pieces of classical music for more than thirty years. A marvelous pianist, he has written three piano concertos as well as a great deal of music for other instruments. However, he may be best known for four operas, which have been seen in opera houses from California to New York to Eastern Europe. On September 18, 2013, San Francisco Opera will stage the world premiere of his fifth opera, Dolores Claiborne, which is based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name.

MN: When did you know you wanted to be a composer?

TP: When I was eight years old I wrote a letter to Giancarlo Menotti telling him how much I admired his work and that I, too, was an opera composer! I had seen some of his operas on network television because in those days opera on TV was not that uncommon. Receiving a letter from him was the most exciting thing that happened to me that year. He told me that one of the reasons he responded to me was because of his fondness for the character Toby in The Medium. I had signed my letter Toby Picker because as a child I went by Toby, not Tobias. He offered to meet me at some point, but I did not follow through on that. I did meet him when I was fifteen and it galvanized my ambition to become a serious composer. I remember he said, “You don’t become a composer. You are either born a composer or you are not. If you are, you know it.” I got very busy after that!

MN: Where did you study music?

TP: I entered the Juilliard School’s Preparatory Division when I was nine or ten and studied there for quite a few years. I did my undergraduate work at the Manhattan School of Music and have graduate degrees from Juilliard and Princeton.

MN: Was Emmeline your first opera?

TP: No, because I had made some attempts at operatic music as a child. At that age I tried to write an opera on the life of Franz Schubert. I was very moved by his music and was disturbed to learn of his early death. That opera has never seen the light of day…nor will it! Emmeline did have a few precursors. In 1983, the Albany Symphony Orchestra played the premiere of The Encantadas, which combines spoken narration with original music. The text was drawn from Herman Melville's vivid and poetic descriptions of the Galapagos Islands. Sir John Gielgud, Will Quadflieg, and Mariko Miyagi have all recorded the work in English, German, and Japanese. It’s a theatrical piece, a melodrama, but it isn’t an opera. Since the words are spoken, it’s not a monodrama, either. When I narrate, the words have a certain kind of rhythm, but when others do it, they have a free hand in some ways about the rhythm.

My second symphony from 1986 concludes with a setting of a poem by Goethe for soprano or mezzo and orchestra, so it, too, is a non-operatic precursor. That final movement was my first experience writing for a singer with orchestra. Right before Emmeline I wrote a piece for Carol Wincenc and Barbara Hendricks called The Rain in the Trees, a setting of poems by W. S. Merwin.

MN: How do you go about finding a librettist and selecting a story to set to music?

TP: I have to write about subjects that I know and understand. I’ve worked with three librettists so far. My first was the distinguished poet J. D. McClatchy whom I met and whose work I read when I was thinking about writing Emmeline. He had just written one or two librettos, but I thought he would be great for me, not only because I liked his poetry, but especially because of his knowledge of the operatic repertoire. He had been going to the opera since he was very young and was familiar with much more of the canon than I was. I thought that was a great advantage.

That collaboration made for a very good marriage of words and music, so I also asked him to write Dolores Claiborne, our second opera together. I also wrote two operas with Gene Scheer: Thèrese Raquin based on the novel by Emile Zola and An American Tragedy, based on the book by Theodore Dreiser. Before choosing Scheer, I read his work, including some samples he wrote especially for me. As soon as we started working together, his writing inspired me to set it to music. A songwriter and a performer, he is very much a creature of the stage. Donald Sturrock, with whom I wrote Fantastic Mr. Fox, found me. That would probably never happen again, but he sent me a libretto and I fell in love with it because it was so clever and charming. It also came with a commission from Los Angeles Opera and that definitely did not hurt! In 1996, Sturrock had attended the premiere of Emmeline at Santa Fe Opera. He approached me with the libretto a month or two later. The premiere of Fantastic Mr. Fox took place at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in December 1998. Since then it has been produced in several other cities and throughout the United Kingdom.

MN: Was it difficult to get the rights to make the opera from novelist Stephen King?

TP: It was not at all hard at that time, but now it might well be a different story. With the help of Andrew Welch, a London theatrical producer who had adapted several of King’s works for the stage, including this one, I got the rights to both Dolores Claiborne and Misery. King kept the right to approve the scenarios and the librettos for any operas made from the novels. He was happy to approve our work on Claiborne and we have his blessing to go forward.

MN: How did you and J.D. McClatchy select the scenes to be staged in Dolores Claiborne?

TP: First, we filtered out all the scenes that were not absolutely crucial to the plot. You can spend days reading a book, but an opera has to get its story across to the audience in a couple of hours. We only wanted to use elements of the story that moved the plot forward and would hold the attention of the audience. Because we were working in a different medium, we created our new structure using the scenes from the novel that revealed the most about the characters. Since the opera takes place as Dolores tells her story to the police, she walks in and out of the interrogation room as she tells of her past life. When she is out of the room, instead of reading her words we see the part of the story she is telling. Both the movie and the opera dramatize some of King’s most visual scenes, but the opera is most definitely based on the book. Since the words of the opera are sung, more has to be portrayed with far fewer words and only the most important material can be used.

MN: Since soprano Patricia Racette will be singing the role of Dolores instead of the previously announced Dolora Zajick, I take it there is a soprano version of the role.

TP: There isn’t a soprano version of the role. There’s a Patricia Racette version of the role. There wasn’t a mezzo version of the role, there was a Dolora Zajick version of the role. When voice ranges are so close it is just a matter of tailoring adjustments to make the role fit on one and another at the same time. I went through the score with Racette and we discussed a few adjustments that flatter her voice while they enhance the role. She is unique and uniquely special to me because I wrote Emmeline for her as well as the role of Roberta in An American Tragedy. She is one of our great actress singers. Not only does she have a beautiful voice with a big range, but when she sings you understand every word she’s singing.

MN: What are some of the musical differences between the Zajick and the Racette versions of the role?

TP: There are very few differences. Here and there something is lower or higher. That is about it. Whenever I have a new opera in production, there are changes and adjustments to be made in the last minute. This is also true of every other aspect of the show, but none of these are changes the public could possibly notice.

MN: How much control do you have over the creative team that stages one of your operas?

TP: I get to approve the stage director and the conductor. Once I approve the director my fate is in his or her hands, so I have to have faith in their choices. The conductor in San Francisco will be George Manahan who conducted the Santa Fe and New York premieres of Emmeline. Besides the world premiere of Dolores Claiborne, he will lead the premiere of the revised version of An American Tragedy in Glimmerglass. He has conducted three of my five operas.

MN: Is anyone performing your other operas these days?

TP: Glimmerglass in upstate New York is doing An American Tragedy next summer as I celebrate my sixtieth birthday. At that time they will premiere a new version of the work. Before that, The Microscopic Opera Company of Pittsburgh is doing a new production of Thèrese Raquin at the same time that San Francisco Opera does Dolores Claiborne. Actually, Thèrese Raquin has had the most productions of any of my operas. One of the best was in San Diego with Kirstin Chavez in the title role. Right now she is in Strassbourg recording my Cuatro Sonetos de Amor, the text of which is poetry by Pablo Neruda.

MN: Has there been much interest in Dolores Claiborne outside of San Francisco?

TP: Many general and artistic directors of opera companies are attending the premiere. That includes myself because I am the artistic director of The Opera San Antonio and I’m considering producing it there. Beginning in the fall of 2014, The Opera San Antonio will be performing at The Tobin Center, a brand new performing arts complex on the River Walk. We may want to stage Dolores Claiborne there, but I want to see it on stage before making that decision. It could be that I would prefer to do another of my operas first in San Antonio. Stephen King is one of America’s finest storytellers and Dolores Claiborne is a wonderful original story. Many people who have not previously been interested in opera want to see that story onstage, so it may bring new people to opera. Thus, I think the opera will find a home with a number of other companies. Like the book, it has quite a bit of R-rated language. If the opera is broadcast on National Public Radio or Public Television, the broadcasters will have to bleep out some words.

Maria Nockin

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):