Opera Commission of the Week

Séance on a Wet Afternoon

At an Opera on the Go panel discussion last Wednesday at Victoria Hall, composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell) announced his agreement with Opera Santa Barbara to write a new opera to be premiered here at the refurbished Granada in February 2009. Based on the book and film Séance on a Wet Afternoon, the project will be directed by Schwartz’s son, Scott, who was just awarded an Indy for his direction of the Jonathan Larson musical Tick … Tick … Boom! at the Rubicon Theatre in Ventura. Stephen Schwartz was joined in Wednesday’s panel discussion by Peter Frisch, Daniel Catán, and Jake Heggie.

The increasingly frequent crossover between the Broadway musical and opera was one of the many topics addressed by the group’s entertaining and enlightening presentation. Heggie speculated on the resurgence of interest in opera among fans and practitioners of the musical by saying that “academia doesn’t own opera anymore” and celebrating the release of what he felt was a “stranglehold.” In response to a question about formative early musical experiences, Schwartz said that he loved opera from his playpen, and would request a particular album of arias by asking his parents to play “the high lady” again.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon promises to be an interesting source for a full-length opera. In it, a psychic medium and her unemployed husband kidnap the daughter of a wealthy couple. They then use their knowledge of the child’s whereabouts and well-being to simulate psychic spiritual knowledge and falsely legitimize the wife’s “gift.” It all unravels when the husband loses heart and the psychic loses her mind, or what’s left of it. Opera Santa Barbara continues to forge ahead with its new festival format and now this, its first commission. The commission is made possible by a generous gift from the much-loved Montecito patrons of the arts, Richard and Luci Janssen. — Charles Donelan

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