Composer Ricky Ian Gordon creates 2 operas in 5 days

Ricky Ian Gordon headed downtown where his “Garden of the Finzi-Continis” was premiered by the New York City Opera on January 27. When he wasn’t engrossed in it, he walked from his Upper West Side home to Lincoln Center, where previews were staged of his “Intimate Apparel” before opening night a few days later.

In a probably unprecedented confluence, the 65-year-old composer launched two operas in five nights.

“It’s not that it’s easy, but that seems to be the way my life is going these days,” he said, sitting in the living room of his apartment. “When the parts are very different, it feels like separate compartments in your brain.”

Disparate styles too, “Intimate”, composed for two pianos, was staged casually on a turntable, while “Finzi” was played by a 15-piece orchestra with a more moderate rhythm.

Announced by singers, Gordon composed “The Tibetan Book of the Dead” for the Houston Grand Opera in 1996. His other works include “The Grapes of Wrath” (Minnesota Opera in 2007), “Rappahannock County” (Virginia Arts Festival in 2011), “27” (Opera Theater of Saint Louis in 2014), “Morning Star” (Cincinnati Opera in 2015) and “The House Without a Christmas Tree” (Houston in 2017).

“Finzi” is a collaboration with librettist Michael Korie, based on Giorgio Bassani’s 1962 novel about Italian Jews in Ferrara as lives were increasingly disrupted by Mussolini’s fascists. The story was adapted into a film by Vittorio De Sica and winner of the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1972.

Minnesota announced in 2008 that “Finzi” would premiere during the 2010-11 season.

“The whole world still had money,” Gordon said.

Then the Great Recession hit. Originally delayed for two seasons, the job was dropped by the company in 2012.

“Everybody’s money is gone and all the endowments from all the arts institutions are crashing,” Gordon said. “We were here with this grand opera.”

“Finzi” remained undated until the winter of 2018-19, when the National Yiddish Theater Folksbiene performed a translated version of “Fiddler on the Roof” which became a hit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. City Opera followed at the museum with the jazz opera “Dear Erich” by Ted Rosenthal.

“They said: it was a great success. Is there anything else you think you can give us? City Opera general manager Michael Capasso recalled. “The next day, by chance, I had a pre-scheduled meeting with Michael Korie, and he comes in and puts this score on my desk. I said: Yes, we want to do this. I love this story. I know it Good.”

Gordon and Korie had written “Finzi” for a full orchestra and scaled down the instruments for City Opera, although they plan to expand it. Gordon did much of the initial composition while on a fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Italy.

As the opera was shelved, Korie expanded the role of Giorgio, the protagonist based on the book’s narrator, in light of the parallels Korie drew between then-Italy and contemporary America.

“I felt that what I thought would never happen here in the United States was happening, that the country was changing before our eyes,” Korie said.

As Giorgio’s callous father sings, “Italy isn’t Germany yet… come what may, we’ll weather the storm,” his son replies, “How much is too much? / How far is too far? / How far is it too late? / Until the nation that you were / Is it no longer the one where you are?

“Finzi” gave eight performances earlier this month and is under discussion for possible productions at Teatro Comunale in Ferrara, Teatro Carlo Felice in Genoa and English National Opera. It includes a memorable pastiche song, “To College Days”, which is likely to have a life of its own.

“Intimate Apparel” runs until March 6 and was co-commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera and Lincoln Center Theater in 2011. Based on the 2003 play by Lynn Nottage with a libretto by the playwright, it is set in the Lower East Side of New York in 1905.

“A black brothel, an Orthodox Jewish tailor,” Gordon said. “They are such different worlds and they are such different operas.”

Originally hired by the Met in 2007 to collaborate with Korie, Gordon at one point concluded that the writer did not have enough time. He used Facebook Messenger in 2011 to contact Nottage, whom he had once met at a cafe with Korie.

“We circled around a lot of different ideas before finding out that we mutually wanted to do an adaptation of ‘Intimate Apparel,'” said Nottage, a two-time Pulitzer Prize winner for drama. “And once we landed on that, the process started to move very quickly.”

She called herself a “neophyte librettist” who had to learn and “in some cases step aside, to allow the robustness of the music to take us on the journey”.

After pitching the first half of “Intimate Apparel” to Met and LCT executives, they decided the work leaned into chamber music. Gordon orchestrated for two pianos, and LCT announced in May 2019 that “Intimate Apparel” would begin previews the following February 27, with an opening night on March 23.

He never succeeded.

Performances were suspended on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic, which closed theaters for a year and a half. Gordon went to his upstate home and rewrote, making edits until production was frozen before critical previews, nips here, transpositions there.

“It’s never done – until I’m dead,” he said.

Given time to assess after the openings, he had one final point.

“‘Intimate Apparel’ was a new way of doing an opera, with enough rehearsals, enough time to revise, and enough time to watch the piece and see what it needed,” he wrote in an email. -mail. “The Garden of the Finzi-Contini” was done the old fashioned way: a dress rehearsal, and bam, you’re open and under review. I will never do it again. It’s barbaric. »

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