"Opera Talks" Opens with Pulitzer-winning Librettist

Opera

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY OCT 21, 2016

Thanks to a collaboration between Sarasota Opera and Hermitage Artist Retreat, the second season of Opera Talks begins next Wednesday with a presentation from Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Mark Campbell, entitled Adventures in Opera. Held within the Sarasota Opera House, attendees will get a chance to hear Campbell speak on the resurgence of contemporary American opera, engage in a question and answer session and preview scenes from some of his five upcoming operas premiering in 2017. “I’m already exhausted,” jokes Campbell. “I’ll probably have to retire to the Hermitage next year if they let me.”

A serial fellow at the Hermitage, this trip will mark Campbell’s fourth visit to the grounds, where he plans to write the libretto for an opera adaptation of Pierre Corneille’s The Comic Illusion. “It allows me focused and concentrated time for my projects,” the writer explains from his home in New York City. “It can be very difficult to put one word behind another in this town.” But as excited as he is to get to work on this latest project, it’s the opportunity to speak to the audience at large that he enthuses about.

It’s a chance to break down barriers for an art form still plagued by perceptions of inaccessibility and distance, to expand the potential audience and let them know that opera can still be new, relevant, American and exciting. “Not all composers and librettists are dead, and they’re American too,” Campbell says with wry humor. “We are among you and we want to be telling your stories.”

And right now American opera is dominating, says Campbell, making it an exciting time for both audiences and artists. Last May, a Minnesota production of Campbell’s adaptation of The Shining broke box office records, and an upcoming Seattle premiere of his opera about a transgender individual he hopes will engage a previously unrepresented demographic who can finally see a story they identify with onstage. “I’m really glad to see the opera audience is not made of just people like me—old white men,” he says. “It’s radically changing. We can’t keep doing La traviata, as much as we all love it, and expect people to identify.”

A necessary change, perhaps, for a storied art form Campbell hopes will continue for another 400 years. “I love the power of words with music behind it because it can appeal to both the brain and the heart at the same time,” says Campbell. “We don’t want this art form to die.”

See Adventures in Opera Wednesday, October 26, at the Sarasota Opera House at 10:30am. No ticket or reservation required.

Pictured: Mark Campbell. Photo courtesy of Sarasota Opera.

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