Adam Guettel Leafs Through Washington Irving for New Opera, RIP

News   Adam Guettel Leafs Through Washington Irving for New Opera, RIP
Tony Award-winning composer-lyricist Adam Guettel is turning to 19th-century American writer Washington Irving for inspiration for a new opera, RIP, based on Irving's "Rip Van Winkle."
Adam Guettel
Adam Guettel

In a recent online auction to raise funds for the not-for-profit Playwrights Horizons Theatre (one of Guettel's artistic homes), fans bid on a page ("signed by Mr. Guettel") from Guettel's new score. The work is billed as his "brand new, never-before-heard-or-seen opera." Bidding ended April 29.

Guettel (Floyd Collins, The Light in the Piazza) described the new opera this way in an auction-item note: "In the epilogue of RIP, based on short stories by Washington Irving, Rip Van Winkle wakes up in a town he no longer knows. He is the only person speaking English. Everyone else is speaking a language made up of any possible configuration of the syllables of the name Rip Van Winkle. When you include switching consonants at the front or back of those syllables, and retrograde, the possibilities are in the hundreds of millions, and a new, completely unintelligible language is born."

Irving's tale of a lazy husband who falls asleep for many years in the Catskills, only to awaken to a world that he does not know, is a classic of American literature. A stage adaptation in the late 19th-century was a smash for the actor Joseph Jefferson III.

Irving (1783-1859) is famous for the short stories "Rip Van Winkle" and "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow."

The winning bid for the page of music was $130. View the auction item here. It's not exactly clear where RIP, the opera, will surface. Guettel does have a musical commission due at Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, in 2011-12, but no announcement about the nature of that work has been made public. Guettel is also among artists commissioned to create an opera for a new creative collaboration between Lincoln Center's sister organizations — The Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theater. The opera commissioning program seeks to "foster the creation of new works to be produced at their respective theatres." The Met/LCT Opera/Theater Commissions (announced in 2006) "will provide renowned composers and playwrights/librettists with the financial and creative resources to create and develop new works for productions to be staged at The Met or Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theater."

The initial group of artists selected to take part in the Met/LCT Opera/Theater Commissions initiative includes Adam Guettel, Jake Heggie, Michael John LaChiusa, Wynton Marsalis, Rachel Portman and Nicholas Wright, Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner, Michael Torke and Craig Lucas, Rufus Wainwright and Scott Wheeler.

Guettel won the Tony for Best Score and Best Orchestrations for the musical The Light in the Piazza. His work also includes the musical Floyd Collins (seen at Playwrights Horizons) and the song cycle Myths and Hymns.

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