Production, based on Anne Sexton's collection of poems, marks official debut of new EOT music director

October 19, 2001

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Eastman Office of Communications, 585-274-1050

ROCHESTER, NY — Conrad Susa’s Transformations, a “musical entertainment” in two acts based on a book of poems by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Anne Sexton, kicks off Eastman Opera Theatre’s 2001-2002 season. Performances will be at 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, November 1-3, and at 2 p.m., Sunday, November 4, in Kilbourn Hall (26 Gibbs St.). This production marks the official debut of Eastman Opera Theatre’s new music director, Benton Hess, who joined the Eastman faculty in July as distinguished professor of voice.

Transformations is a collection of poems based on the Brothers Grimm fairy tales, which Sexton used to paint a disturbing emotional journey of her deeply troubled life. The setting for the performance is an activities room in a psychiatric ward during the 1970s — one in which Sexton herself might have been admitted. A true ensemble piece, the performance features just eight singers (two sopranos, one mezzo-soprano, three tenors, and two baritones) who do not have character names but play many roles throughout the stories. Although Susa, who worked directly with Sexton when he wrote the demanding score in 1972, never called his work an opera — it is “an entertainment” — the production requires singers of the utmost skill, artistry, and versatility.

The performance features two alternating casts of Eastman voice students, accompanied by a non-traditional chamber orchestra, conducted by Hess. The unusual orchestration, featuring only nine musicians, includes the clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, bass, percussion, electronic keyboard, and an organ.

Transformations is a powerful, engrossing, and entertaining show through which Susa provides a unique look into Anne Sexton’s psyche,” said Steven Daigle, director of the show and dramatic director of Eastman Opera Theatre. “His use of musical vocabulary along with his use of conventional styles services the poetry, humor, and darkness of the work.”

Susa, who serves on the composition faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, is scheduled to attend the Saturday evening (Nov. 3) performance of his work. He will meet with the cast and other opera students early the following week to offer his commentary and insights.

Reserved tickets for Transformations are $15 and $10, with discounts available to University of Rochester faculty, staff, and students. They are available at Ticket Express, 100 East Ave., or by calling 222-5000. Tickets also may be purchased at the box office one hour before the start of each performance.


Note: Steven Daigle and Benton Hess are available for interviews. Biographical information about Anne Sexton also is available.