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An Opera opening will make any composer happy. He has two.

When composer Ricky Ian Gordon saw Stephen Sondheim’s “Follies” on Broadway in the early 1970s, it was unlike anything he’d seen on stage.

Gordon said in a recent interview: “He created a musical theater that feels like a foreign film to me. “And I want to do something in the theater like foreign films.”

“That’s what ‘Follies’ is: a musical about broken lives and disappointments,” he continued, adding an interpretation for emphasis. “I thought, ‘That’s what I want to do.’

Gordon, now 65, has continued to create art inspired by those themes – in the process becoming considerably more famous in the world of opera than theater.

In a coincidence caused by the delay of the pandemic, not one but two of his operas open almost simultaneously before the end of this month, and both involve the darkness that Gordon loves in “Follies”. “Intimate attire,” at the Lincoln Center Theatre, where Lynn Nottage adapted her own play, dealing with lies, deception, and thwarting dreams in the story of a black New York seamstress in 1905. And “The Garden of Finzi-Continis,” presented by the New York City Opera and the National Folksbiene Yiddish Theater, based on a semi-autobiographical novel by Giorgio Bassani that follows the fates of privileged members of the Jewish community in Ferrara, Italy , who were blinded by what awaits them during World War II .

It’s a very unusual situation for a living composer: To have two of your operas perform at the same time in New York, your name usually has to be something like Puccini, who has ” Tosca” and “La Bohème” both run this January at the Metropolitan Opera.

“A new opera requires a great deal of attention, but two operas are completely invasive,” says Gordon. “It is extremely stressful, no matter how often I meditate, but it is also very satisfying, and fortunately, pride. The commute between the Lower East Side in 1905 and Ferrara in 1945 was also a bit of an oddity, but thank God for the IRT. ”

To fully capture Gordon’s career, it’s important to go back a little bit back then, to the early years of the 21st century, when he seemed to be part of a generation of politicians. New composer rejuvenated the American music scene. Inspired by Ned Rorem and Alban Berg, Dmitri Shostakovich and Scott Joplin, he is often lumped together in a similar cohort that includes fellow composers Adam Guettel, Michael John LaChiusa and Jason Robert Brown.

The songs of all four were included on Audra McDonald’s debut solo album, “The Road Back to Heaven,” a fusion of musical theater, avant-garde pop and song-art that debuted in 1998 – and with keen awareness, announced a change of guardian but ultimately didn’t happen, when many mainstream rock and pop styles have conquered Broadway.

Gordon’s delicate lyrical harmonies slowly enter your subconscious, and he evokes emotion rather than hitting the listener with it. That’s not what the musical theater wanted.

“They always called us the ‘sons of Sondheim,’” says Gordon. “He opened a door, but it wasn’t an open door – it was just a door for Sondheim to walk through.”

“People started saying we didn’t write the melody and the rhythm,” he added, then uttered a joke, as if responding to the accusation. “Each of us writes melody and writes rhythm, but in the language we grew up with and from which we evolved.”

Born in 1956, Gordon grew up on Long Island; him – as Donald Katz recorded in “Fire at Home”, a 1992 book that received much acclaim about the middle-class aspirations and frustrations of the Gordon family, who inherited his father’s electric business. But he discovered opera when he was 8 years old by accident The Victor Book of the Opera at a friend’s house.

“My memory of it is like a Harry Potter moment, like there’s smoke and light behind this book,” he said.

He’s also open to pop music, and in his late teens became “bewitched, completely, and obsessed with Joni Mitchell,” when he included it in a story he wrote about her last year. Rotary magazine. The story is drawn from an upcoming memoir by a Gordon writing team that begins with a number of poets and novelists during the pandemic; Self-examination is nothing new to him, and he candidly talks about his past struggles with alcoholism, drug addiction, and eating disorders.

He initially enrolled at Carnegie Mellon University as a pianist, but eventually became a composer, obsessed with bringing speech to musical life. “If I put a poem to music, I memorize it and I let it soak and live in me,” he said. “I love singers, so I wanted to give them something to act on. Even if it’s a song, it has to be like a little opera.”

By the 1990s and early 2000s, he had focused on a variety of forms and genres. He wrote the song cycle “Children of genius” for soprano Harolyn Blackwell, and his first opera, “The Spanish Book of the Dead,” an informed meditation on the AIDS epidemic, premiered at the Houston Grand Opera in 1996. But the work. His works have also appeared off-Broadway, including such musical projects as “Dream comes true” collaboration with writer and director Tina Landau, and Proust .-inspired show “My life with Albertine,” opened at Playwrights Horizons in 2003 with then-unknown Kelli O’Hara in the lead role.

That performance, alas, didn’t go well, even as Ben Brantley praised the track’s “lovely, layered melodies” Review for The New York Times.

Gordon prides himself on “My Life With Albertine” and its failure leaves him deeply traumatized. “I think I need to face the truth: The current musical theater is not a place where I will bloom,” he said. “I wrote to all these opera companies that I wanted to sing opera, so the next thing I did was ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ with the Minnesota Opera. Suddenly, I felt this was a place where I could do what I do. I’m at Lincoln Center now, where musicals are usually performed, but I’m performing my opera here. ”

Gordon is actually happily chatting in an empty room at Lincoln Center Theater, where “Intimate Outfits” – was seen before the first wave of the pandemic, and now opens on May 31. 1 – just finished a rehearsal in the Mitzi E. Newhouse Space.

Suddenly, a voice came from a screen: A piece of the musical “Flying Over Sunset” had begun at the Vivian Beaumont Theater above. Coincidentally, the lyrics of that show were written by Michael Korie, Gordon is the lip-sync artist on “The Grapes of Wrath” and now on “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” at the Jewish Heritage Museum starting January 27.

Making “Intimate Costumes” at Lincoln Center Theater was not given. It is part of the company’s joint operating program with the Met, and other works from that show have taken to the stage, like Nico Muhly’s “Two Boys” and more recently “Eurydice” by Matthew Aucoin and Sarah Ruhl, was produced at the opera house.

“It really is time for the Lincoln Center Theater to get the benefit of one of these performances,” Paul Cremo, the Met screenwriter, said in an interview. “We thought that given the proximity of the play, it would really benefit from that space, where some audience members are only six feet away from the characters. And Ricky wrote a beautiful arrangement for two pianos. “

While Gordon was working on a small scale, on just a few instruments, Nottage was tasked with expanding her play, which mainly included interactions between two people, into a libretto that would bring together groups of characters. larger objects and use choirs . (Bartlett Sher directs.)

“I shared with Ricky what I was listening to and we talked a lot about the texture and feel of the piece,” Nottage said. “He is very invested in Americana music and especially ragtime. What he does really great is weave all these traditional forms together without feeling like it’s constricted. He was a really lovely instructor throughout the process. (The couple get along so well that they currently serve on a committee from the St. Louis Opera House with Nottage’s daughter, Ruby Aiyo Gerber.)

The musical style of “The Garden of the Finzi-Continis” comes from another well. “It was my Italian opera,” said Gordon. “I just think about putting myself in the head of Puccini, Verdi, Bellini. It is very different from ‘Intimate Dress’, very American. “

One key difference is size: The “Finzi-Continis” track has been arranged for a 15-part orchestra for a City Opera performance and can be extended to larger ensembles, especially is when there are tentative plans to produce it in Italy.

“It’s absolutely amazing tunes, no qualms, just beautiful deep tunes,” says Michael Capasso, general manager of City Opera, who is staging the production with Richard Stafford.

Gordon’s two projects illustrate both the composer’s ecumenical tastes and his versatility. “Ricky sounds like Ricky,” Korie said in an interview, “but he’s not afraid to do what the classical opera composers did, or what Rodgers and Hammerstein did for years, and what the What theater composers do, is that they allow themselves to immerse themselves in the sounds of other characters, different times, different places. ”

“Finzi-Continis” has always cherished the original desire to do something in the theater that resembles a foreign film: Gordon has long been a fan of Vittorio De Sica’s Oscar-winning movie version, from 1970. But revisiting it a few years ago made it particularly difficult for him.

“I thought there was something about the overlap between personal pain and shared pain – I suddenly saw what made that story so tragic,” he said. “I can’t even stand it.”

So he called Korie to ask them to adapt Bassani’s book.

It’s no coincidence that “Intimate Apparel” and “Finzi-Continis” are both set in the past, because much of Gordon’s work is. “In a way, I’m a memorabilia,” he said. “I very often write from a place of grief.”

However, when asked via email what she thinks is his signature style, Kelli O’Hara surprisingly replied: “Joy. I don’t think subject matter is always fun, but making music is a healer. So, there. Joyous.”

And, indeed, Gordon chuckled as he said, “I’m lucky because I’m activated by my unhappiness, not paralyzed. I was never able to sit still because I never felt like I had done enough, never felt important enough. It caused me so much pain but it made me never stop writing. And I’m glad I didn’t stay silent.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/21/arts/music/ricky-ian-gordon-intimate-apparel-opera.html An Opera opening will make any composer happy. He has two.

Fry Electronics Team

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