Following his success with the hilarious stage opera Pumped Fiction (2007), MacArthur Genius Grant recipient John Eaton brings F. Scott Fitzgerald's beloved tale The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to operatic life on the stage of the Sharp Theatre at Symphony Space.
Baritone James Bobick sings the title role, alongside soprano Linda Larson, mezzo-soprano Jennifer Roderer, tenor Tony Boutt_ and Bass-Baritone Dominic Inferrera. Karl Kramer conducts the Pocket Opera Players in this fully staged presentation directed by Marco Capalbo.
"It was that dramatic line that attracted me to The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in the first place," says Mr. Eaton. "The author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, always remembered to keep the surface level of his writing engaging and amusing. The story of Benjamin Button is full of surprises, hilarious incidents, and completely ironic situations that keep you on the edge of your seat. So often in theater experiences, and especially in opera, you find yourself wondering if the author really asked himself if anything was happening on the stage _ to paraphrase the composer-critic Virgil Thomson. The first scene of my opera is taken almost verbatim from the Fitzgerald story. There is so much movement and excitement in this production, almost all taken directly from the original story."
Eaton further discusses the work in the following interview:
What was it that attracted you to F. Scott Fitzgerald's short story and made you want to turn it into an opera?
The humor and the irony, the important insights for our own lives and culture, and the surreal quality of the story. I almost feel that a Pocket Opera must have this surreal element _ e.g., "Peer Gynt", "Don Quixote", and "Pinocchio" have been successful past subjects chosen from existing literature. One reason for this is that so one can accept a cellist singing who doesn't have the voice of a Domingo; or, a clarinetist moving around the stage who isn't a Nureyev.
By how much does your opera differ from the story?
Somewhat, but not significantly. Fitzgerald's story line has so much action and motion, making for stage-worthy events! The only thing cut out is the part relating to his business ventures; the only character added is Rita, a wife for Roscoe, to put some dramatic tension between father and son in the 'Life at Home' scene. We also added a lullaby as the 'Epilogue.'
Very significantly different. Unlike the movie, we neither modernize nor sentimentalize the events or language at all. Rather, we stick close to the slightly askew nature and time-line of the original story.
How important was it to incorporate musical elements true to the time period of the story, into your signature microtonal style?
Very important, In order to create a feeling for the ethos of the particular periods Fitzgerald and myself look back at we have used or evoked their music _ e.g., the 'Yale" and 'Harvard Life' scenes are both built on music associated with those places. Similarly, "The War and Triumphant Return" scene is a deconstructed Sousa march prevalent in the Spanish-American War. Incidentally, I've never done that in any of my previous twenty or so operas. In this case I found it absolutely necessary. Not that all the music of a particular scene is cast in the terms and tunes or music of it's time. For humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes a snatch of a melody familiar to present-day audiences, but not of the time-period portrayed is quoted. And much of the music has little to do with the period portrayed.
Why do you feel that it is important to have instrumentalists participate as characters of the opera as they do in your pocket operas?
Let me quote from a note I wrote about this opera: "This actually goes way back to when I was taken to my first opera at a very young age by a relative. We had front row seats. The opera was 'La Boheme'. And as Mimi lay dying, I happened to look into the orchestra pit. The horn section was playing cards and the oboist had to be woken up by the flutist in time for a mournful solo! Even then I began thinking of how instrumentalists could be more involved in opera!" All the instrumentalists who have acted and otherwise participated in my Pocket Operas have thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Plus it is a great stimulus to a composer's imagination to think of how to use them with their instruments on the stage.
CENTER FOR CONTEMPORARY OPERA PRESENTS
JOHN EATON: THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON
JUNE 15, 2010 8:00 PM AT SYMPHONY SPACE
Karl Kramer, Conductor
Marco Capalbo, Stage Director
Steven Quandt, Lighting Designer
Linda Larson, Soprano - Young Teacher/Hildegarde Moncrief
Jennifer Roderer, Mezzo-Soprano - Nurse / Child
Tony Boutt_, Tenor - Roger "Cuff" Button / Applicant
James Bobick, Baritone - Benjamin Button
Dominic Inferrera, Bass-Baritone - Dr. Keene
Margaret Lancaster, Flutist - Passer By / Child
Alejandro Acierto, Clarinetist - Passer By / Applicant
Ana Milosavljevic, Violinist - Child / Applicant
James Jacobs, Cellist - Young Man
Christopher Oldfather, Pianist - Young Woman
Dennis Sullivan, Percussionist - Young Woman
Individual tickets are $30; Members, Students, Seniors $20; Day of Show $32; To purchase, contact the Symphony Space Box Office at 212.864.5400 or visit www.symphonyspace.org