Watch About Creators Press Making of Orchestra Contact

 

Making of

Narrative   Blog


The Golden Gate Development Timeline:

– May 7 and 8, 2015, showcase of The Golden Gate as part of Fort Worth Opera’s Frontiers Series
New York Times article can be viewed here

– May 30, 2013, “From Lyric Novel to Lyric Stage,” a multi-media exploration of Vikram Seth’s "The Golden Gate" as novel-in-verse and opera, one of the opening season events at Stanford University’s new Bing Concert Hall. Presented by the Stanford Arts Institute, the Department of English, and the Creative Writing Program, it featured a video introduction and readings by Vikram Seth, excerpts from the opera DVD, and readings by current Wallace Stegner Fellows. Cummings provided a connective narrative dealing with the decisions, inspirations, and trade-offs in adapting the novel – written by Seth while he was a student at Stanford – into an opera libretto. A twenty–minute condensation of the 90-minute presentation can be viewed here

– March 2013, completion of Act II orchestration; opera completely orchestrated

– December 2012, completion of Act I orchestration

– November 30, 2012, showcase of The Golden Gate, Opera America’s New Works Forum, one of the first events held in the newly-opened National Opera Center, streamed online. Video can be seen here

– November 18, 2011, reading and recording with full orchestra and cast of thirty minutes of excerpts from The Golden Gate at Merkin Concert Hall, New York City, with conductor Steven Osgood, soprano Katrina Thurman, mezzo Hai-Ting Chinn, tenor Keith Jameson, baritone David Adam Moore, and bass Justin Hopkins. A live recording of these excerpts can be heard here

– November 18, 2011, reading and recording with full orchestra and cast of thirty minutes of excerpts from The Golden Gate at Merkin Concert Hall, New York City, with conductor Steven Osgood, soprano Katrina Thurman, mezzo Hai-Ting Chinn, tenor Keith Jameson, baritone David Adam Moore, and bass Justin Hopkins. A live recording of these excerpts can be heard here

–November 16, 2011, Opera America's Salon Series presents excerpts from The Golden Gate with conductor Steven Osgood, soprano Katrina Thurman, mezzo Hai-Ting Chinn, tenor Keith Jameson, baritone David Adam Moore, bass Justin Hopkins, and pianist Charity Wicks

–June 2011, reading of revised orchestration of thirty minutes of excerpts from The Golden Gate with New York City freelance instrumentalists, Ayers Studios, Steven Osgood conductor

–December 2010, reading with full orchestra and cast of first-draft orchestration of Act I scene 1 of The Golden Gate at Carroll's Studios, with conductor Steven Osgood, soprano Katrina Thurman, mezzo Hai-Ting Chinn, tenor Keith Jameson, baritone David Adam Moore, and bass Kevin Burdette with Juilliard instrumentalists

– May 2010, completion of The Golden Gate staged workshop DVD, available to potential producers

– January 2010, staged workshop at the Rose Studio at Lincoln Center, Steven Osgood, conductor, John Henry Davis, director, baritone David Adam Moore, tenor Keith Jameson, mezzo Hai-Ting Chinn, bass Kevin Burdette, and soprano Katrina Thurman

– February 2009, sing-through of the both acts with piano, LaGuardia Performing Arts Center, New York City, Steven Osgood, conductor

– September 2008, staged workshop of Act II by Philadelphia’s Center City Opera Theater, Ethical Culture Society, Philadelphia

– July 2008, sing-through of second act, The Juilliard School, Steven Osgood, conductor

– January 2008, concert performance of Act I by American Opera Projects at the Rose Studio at Lincoln Center, Steven Osgood, conductor

– July 2007, actors’ reading of first draft of complete libretto

– March 2007, staged workshop of first two scenes of Act I, Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater, Steven Osgood, conductor, Caren France, Director

– September 2006, concert performance of Act I scene 1 by American Opera Projects, South Oxford Space, Brooklyn, NY; work selected as the winner of the American Opera Projects Composers and the Voice competition

– Summer 2006, signing of rights agreement with author Vikram Seth for adaptation of the novel into a libretto

– November 2005-May 2006, completion of five arias from The Golden Gate for American Opera Projects’ Composers and the Voice workshop under the direction of conductor Steven Osgood.

– April 2004, performance of “Fragments from The Golden Gate” and “Still The Golden Gate” at New York University, Steven Hrycelak, bass, Karen Siegel, soprano

– Winter 2003, composition of “Still The Golden Gate,” a companion piece to “Fragments from The Golden Gate

– Spring 1988, multiple performances of “Soon” (lyric by Vikram Seth) by Cummings Ensemble at P.S. 122 and Knitting Factory in New York City

– Spring 1987, Vikram Seth offers pre-publication copy of his poem “Soon” for musical setting

– December 1986, performance of “Fragments from The Golden Gate” by the San Francisco Opera Center on their Schwabacher Debut Recital Series

– Summer 1986, signing of rights agreement with author Vikram Seth for use of his novel in concert works

– May 1986, publication of The Golden Gate, a novel in verse by Vikram Seth

  Back to top



Narrative:

I have wanted to write an opera on The Golden Gate since first reading it in 1986. I contacted Vikram Seth that year and received his permission to set portions of it in a piece for tenor, mezzo, and piano commissioned by the San Francisco Opera Center and presented on the Schwabacher Debut Recital Series. Seth was so appreciative of the result that he gave me a then-unpublished poem to set for my ensemble of amplified instruments and voices.

I knew I loved the language and the story of The Golden Gate, but I had no idea how to cast them into a opera libretto, and other projects took priority until two events in 2005 showed me the way.

The first was participating in American Opera Projects’ extraordinary Composers and the Voice Workshop under the direction of Steven Osgood. Drawing from The Golden Gate, I composed five arias during the workshop. I could tell they were speaking to singers and listeners in a very direct and emotional way.

The second was attending the experimental theater company Elevator Repair Service’s “Gatz.” I had seen a short excerpt in a work-in-progress presentation three years before and jumped at the chance to see it complete. “Gatz” is a seven-hour verbatim reading of The Great Gatsby. Every word of the text is spoken, all the dialogue and all the narration, by actors who gradually become the characters in the novel. By thirty minutes into the piece I was totally engaged and had no awareness of first person versus third person, narration versus dialogue – the characters, the story, and the language were all vividly present on stage. “Gatz” showed me how to approach The Golden Gate. It would not be seven hours long, nor would it have anything close to every word, but it would have the same fluidity between narrative and dialogue and it would maintain the beauty of the original’s language.

It would also be a compact piece with economical forces – five opera singers and one speaking part for a child actor, orchestra of seventeen players, duration of about two hours including one intermission.

Vikram Seth gladly supported the plan, and we signed a rights agreement. Seth has approved each draft of the libretto, showing generous flexibility and rarely asking for changes.

At the conclusion of the Composer and the Voice Workshop, each member composes a fifteen minute scene. AOP brought in director Ned Canty, librettist Mark Stephen Campbell, and composer/librettist Mark Adamo who gave me valuable help with my libretto, and AOP arranged for a reading by actors that was particularly useful.

The Golden Gate was selected from among the six Composers and the Voice scenes to receive further development support through a staged workshop by Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater. A delightful cast of MSM graduate student singers – exactly the age of the characters they portray – worked in intensive musical and staging rehearsals under director Caren France and conductor Steven Osgood and presented the first two scenes of Act I in Greenfield Hall on March 18, 2007. The singing was superb, the acting was natural, vivid, and inventive, and the piece clearly held the audience’s rapt attention.

I continued work on the libretto, with a reading by actors of the first complete draft at my apartment in April 2007. By July I had a first draft of music for the complete first act. A singer’s read through, directed by Steven Osgood, pointed the way for revisions and tightening. From the beginning to the present, conductor Steven Osgood has been the most helpful and exacting advisor in matters musical, vocal, and dramatic.

AOP presented the first act in concert at the Rose Studios at Lincoln Center in January 2008. Again, the audience response was heartening. I completed the second act in July 2008, and it was immediately selected for a staged workshop by Philadelphia’s Center City Opera. They presented four performances in September 2008. Even without the first act, the audience response was passionate and engaged. One elderly couple argued furiously with me about whether Jan has to die; another couple were at odds with each other over whether Liz did the right thing by marrying Phil.

Director John Henry Davis had attended the Manhattan School workshop and expressed interest in working on the piece. He invited me to a production of a new version of “Babes in Toyland” by the Little Orchestra Society at Avery Fisher Hall in December 2008, which convinced me that he was the director for us. Emma Lively, President of LivelyWorks, who has followed The Golden Gate since it’s first outing, offered to serve as producer and joined the team at the same time.

In February 2009 we organized a working day with singers to hear the two acts together and to test the revisions I had done since September. This allowed us finally to see the through-line issues clearly, and another pass of major libretto and music rewrites followed, supported by monthly meetings with the whole team. We completed this process in early August 2009.

In January 2010 The Golden Gate received a staged workshop at the Rose Studio at Lincoln Center, produced by American Opera Projects and LivelyWorks. Joining conductor Steven Osgood (New York City Opera, De Nederlandse Opera, Chautauqua Opera, former AOP Artistic Director) and director John Henry Davis (Lincoln Center, Playwrights Horizons, “Oz” for HBO) was a cast of young singers whose appearances include leading roles at The Metropolitan Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Theatre du Châtelet Paris, Lyric Opera of San Diego, Santa Fe Opera, The Wooster Group, and La Scala: baritone David Adam Moore, tenor Keith Jameson, mezzo Hai-Ting Chinn, bass Kevin Burdette, and soprano Katrina Thurman.

This workshop received encouraging reviews from the New York Times and MusicalAmerica.com, and a three-camera video shoot has resulted in a high-quality DVD of the workshop performance, available to potential producers.

The next step was orchestration. In December 2010 Steven Osgood conducted the workshop cast and an orchestra of Juilliard students in a reading of the first scene. That scene, extensively revised and joined by music from scenes two and three, received a reading with instruments only – this time by some of the finest New York City freelance instrumentalists assembled with the help of the multi-woodwind player Andrew Sterman – in June 2011.

Opera America's invitation to showcase The Golden Gate on their Salon Series in November 2011 dovetailed perfectly with recording further revisions of what was now thirty minutes of excerpts in Merkin Concert Hall two days later. A live recording of these excerpts can be heard here

In November 2012 Opera America selected The Golden Gate as one of four works to showcase in their New Works Forum, one of the first events held in the newly-opened National Opera Center. The event was live streamed online; video can be seen here.

In December 2012 I completed the orchestration of Act I, and in March 2013 I finished orchestrating Act II. The opera is now completely orchestrated.

“From Lyric Novel to Lyric Stage,” a multi-media exploration of Vikram Seth’s "The Golden Gate" as novel-in-verse and as opera was one of the opening season events at Stanford University’s new Bing Concert Hall in May 2013. Presented by the Stanford Arts Institute, the Department of English, and the Creative Writing Program, it featured a video introduction and readings by Vikram Seth, excerpts from the opera DVD, and readings by current Wallace Stegner Fellows. I provided a connective narrative dealing with the decisions, inspirations, and trade-offs in adapting the novel – written by Seth while he was a student at Stanford – into an opera libretto. A twenty-minute condensation of the 90-minute presentation can be viewed here

– Conrad Cummings

Back to top



Blog:

click here to follow a blog on The Golden Gate’s development

Back to top