Monday, August 15, 2011

Higdon Commission to Santa Fe

So you thought that the first opera by Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Higdon was going to appear at San Francisco Opera, as announced in the 2009-10 season announcement?

Think again.

Santa Fe Opera announced the other week that Higdon and librettist Gene Scheer's Cold Mountain will appear at Santa Fe, in a co-production with Opera Company of Philadelphia, in 2015. Note that the press release calls it Higdon's first opera.

I have an inquiry in to the San Francisco Opera press office about this, because I have not seen any formal announcement from them. However, David Patrick Stearns is on the case:
The Higdon announcement is the most dramatic - not just because the Philadelphia composer won last year's Pulitzer Prize for music, but because the project had seemed dead when Higdon and librettist Gene Scheer split with the San Francisco Opera. The project's two years under San Francisco's aegis, 2009 to 2011, were mostly spent looking for subject matter and being thwarted, sometimes by lack of suitability for operatic adaptation, but more significantly by rights issues.

"We went through several dozen [properties]," said Higdon. "Getting Cold Mountain took 10 months of pushing and taking back avenues to make it work. It was a major ordeal. Miramax, which holds some of the rights [because of its 2003 film version, based on the best-seller by Charles Frazier], was up for sale when all of this was going on, and we had to wait until it was bought."

Earlier this year, however, the commission for what was to be Higdon's first opera was canceled. A spokesman for the San Francisco Opera said the parties parted over financial terms: The creators were asking more than the company wanted to pay. "There's no ill will between us. We're all very happy for her and think it's a great subject matter," said the spokesman.

Though Higdon admitted that financial negotiations were a small factor, she also cited conflicts with San Francisco Opera general director David Gockley, who built an extensive new-opera record in his years running the Houston Grand Opera, and who takes what Higdon described as an interventionist approach toward the creative process.

"Other people have done operas with him, and that's the way he works," she said. "I didn't feel that it was right to ask him to change the way he runs his opera company."
Thanks to Patrick Vaz for catching this one - regrettably, I saw something in a comment at Parterre Box about this a couple of weeks ago and didn't follow up.


Henry Holland said...

Too bad about the commission going to Santa Fe, though I know that's just an excuse for a road trip for you. :-)

Apart from the quality of the music and the actual texts, one reason I love Schreker is he wrote his own stories.

Now, there's the insane out there that think that's a bad thing, but I'm puzzled by the American habit of taking a currently popular book or movie and making an opera out of it. A certain number of people will go in to Higdon's opera with baggage from the movie, not what she wants, I'm sure.

Lisa Hirsch said...

It's not a particularly American habit or a particularly current habit: Verdi took plots from Hugo, Schiller, Dumas, and others. Wagner stole from the Arthurian legends and Norse sagas. There's nothin' wrong with doing that!