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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