ROCHESTER, NY — An intriguing new opera by Charles Strouse — one of Broadway’s most prolific composers and one of the Eastman School of Music’s most illustrious alumni — launches Eastman Opera Theatre’s new season this fall.
The world premiere performances of Strouse’s new work, The Future of the American Musical Theater, will take place at 8 p.m., Thursday-Saturday, November 4, 5, and 6, and at 2 p.m., Sunday, November 7, in Eastman’s Kilbourn Hall (26 Gibbs St.). Presented alongside and performed as a companion piece to Strouse’s 1985 opera Nightingale — suggested by the Hans Christian Andersen folk tale — the operas together are billed as East and West.
“East and West is a pairing of operas — one taking place in China (East) and the other in Florida (West),” explains Strouse, the Tony- and Grammy Award-winning composer. “They are both myths: one having to do with a great Emperor and his victory over death, and the other with American ‘royalty’ and their victory over the Broadway stage.” Strouse further quips that “mighty Emperors still live in the West today, though now they’re known as Broadway producers!”
Eastman Opera Theatre Dramatic Director Steven Daigle says West is essentially about the intrigues of theater relationships played out against the backdrop of the dedication of a new performing arts center in Florida. Both operas have a distinctive “American” mindset; East will be told with a modern pop culture twist, using the character of “the Storyteller” to provide the thread that weaves the two stories together.
Strouse’s new score — which has been arranged for orchestra by Jairo Duarte-Lopez, an Eastman graduate student in composition, and Michaela Eremiasova — will be brought to life by a special Eastman student orchestra under the direction of Benton Hess, Eastman Opera Theatre’s music director. The four performances of East and West present an exciting opportunity for two alternating casts of Eastman voice students; each role combines challenging singing with engaging character development.
In both operas, Strouse has combined historical techniques with modern ideas. Stylistically, East takes traditional operatic conventions but the characters are the stereotypes found in the most popular Broadway productions; West’s music essentially is operatic in nature, but the musical idiom is more like musical theater. Together they function to draw attention to the contemporary issue of the blurring of identities between opera and musical theater.
East and West is a bonanza for fans of Strouse, one of Broadway’s most well known composers. Perhaps best known for his smash hit musicals Annie and Bye Bye Birdie, as well as a multitude of memorable scores for television, cinema, and the concert stage, the composer graduated from Eastman in 1947.
“The Eastman School was where it all began for me,” said Strouse. “With the performances of East and West at Eastman, a lovely little circle is completed. Part of that circle is that West is about Broadway, which is another aspect of my musical life and where many opera singers and composers are pointing these days.”
Reserved seating tickets for East and West are $18, 15, 12, and 8. They are available in person or online through the RPO Box Office (108 East Avenue), by phone at 454-2100, or at any Rochester-area Wegmans Video Departments. Any unsold tickets may be purchased at the Kilbourn Hall box office one hour before the start of each performance.
In addition, the Friends of Eastman Opera will sponsor a special pre-performance talk about East and West by Russell Miller, a member of Eastman’s voice and opera faculty. The talk, which is free and open to the public, will take place in Room 120 of the Eastman School at 7 p.m., November 4, 5, and 6, and at 1 p.m., November 7.
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NOTE: Photos of Charles Strouse working with Eastman voice students are available.