Hello HOTOpera Fans! We hope you've enjoyed the past three Spotlight Sundays featuring the composer/librettists duos from the first three New in November operas: Opera Kardashian; The Séance; and A Womb with a View. Today we're thrilled to introduce our fourth opera: Biennale. This opera was written by NIN alumnae composer, Paul Richards and librettist, Wendy Steiner. You may remember this dynamic duo from the past two New in November Festivals where we presented excerpts from their comic opera: The Loathly Lady. We hope you enjoy learning about Biennale, Paul, Wendy, and what Opera for the 22nd Century means to them. To purchase tickets for CT's HOTTEST opera event of the season on Sunday, November 17, click here.
Born in New York City in 1969 to a musical family, composer Paul Richards has been engaged with music since childhood, including forays into various popular styles, the Western canon, and Jewish sacred and secular music through his father, a cantor. All of these experiences inform his creative activities, which have included numerous orchestral, vocal, chamber, and theatrical works. Hailed in the press as a composer with "a strong, pure melodic gift, an ear for color, and an appreciation for contrast and variety," and praised for his "fresh approach to movement and beautiful orchestral coloration," his works have been heard in performance throughout the country and internationally on six continents.
He has been recognized in numerous competitions, including the 2017 Flute New Music Consortium Competition Competition, the 2014 Columbia Summer Winds Outdoor Composition Competition, the 2009 St. Mary's University/Kaplan Foundation Composition Competition, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra's Fresh Ink 2002 Florida Composers' Competition, the International Section of the 2000 New Music for Sligo/IMRO Composition Award, and the 2001 and 2004 Truman State University/M.A.C.R.O. Composition Competitions. Other honors and awards include Special Distinction in the ASCAP Rudolf Nissim Prize, Finalist in the 2006 American Composers Orchestra Whitaker Reading Sessions, Finalist in the Atlanta Chamber Players 2009 Rapido! Composition Competition, Second Prize in the International Horn Society Composition Competition in 2001, First Place in the 1999 Voices of Change Composers Competition, two First Place prizes in the Guild of Temple Musicians Young Composers Award (1994-95, 1995-96) and many others.
Commissions have come from organizations including the Southwest Florida Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Brass, the 6ixwire project, Florida State Music Teachers' Association, St. Mary's University/Kaplan Foundation, Buffet-Crampon International Summer Clarinet Academy, Open Heart String Quartet, Duo 46, Sonoran Consort, Meet the Composer-Arizona, Arizona Repertory Singers, Arizona Commission on the Arts and the Catalina Chamber Orchestra. In addition, many university wind programs have commissioned Richards' work, including those of Baylor, DelMar, Florida, Illinois - Champaign/Urbana, Michigan, Nevada - Las Vegas, North Carolina - Greensboro, Northern Iowa, Syracuse and Truman State.
Richards' second opera, with libretto by Wendy Steiner, “Biennale”, was premiered in October, 2013, at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia. Richards and Steiner’s first opera, “The Loathly Lady”, received its premiere April 1, 2009 at Irvine Auditorium on The University of Pennsylvania campus. With a strong interest in dramatic works and collaborations with other artists, he composed the score to James Babanikos‘ film “Somewhere Beyond”, and has recently completed “Forty-Four Ambitions for Soprano and Piano”, an extended song cycle on the poetry of Lola Haskins.
Witch Doctor, a CD of Richards' wind ensemble music, was released in 2013 on the Mark Custom label. Fables, Forms, and Fears, a CD of Richards' chamber music, was released by Meyer Media in 2007. Music by Paul Richards is also recorded on the Centaur, MMC, Capstone, Spitfire, Summit, Raven, and Pavane labels. His works are published by Carl Fischer Music, the International Horn Society Press, TrevCo Music, Jeanné, Inc., and Margalit Music. Currently Research Foundation Professor of Music and head of composition and theory at the University of Florida, where he has been on the faculty since 1999, he served as Visiting Professor at Florida State University in 2016, and previously taught at Baylor University. Richards earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Composition at the University of Texas at Austin, and Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees in Theory and Composition at the University of Arizona.
Here is what Paul had to say about Opera for the 22nd Century:
Opera as a medium has always been able to absorb new cultural trends, new technologies, new musical ideas, and new themes, and there is every reason to think that it will continue to do so. Even as much of our artistic consumption moves on-line (and there is a place for opera there as well), I think people will continue to find the deeply human, deeply connective, and deeply impressive experience of live acting and singing to be meaningful. Contemporary opera, and the opera of the future, gives us the opportunity to confront, both emotionally and intellectually, some of the complex conditions of modernity, and it is my fervent belief that it will serve a vital function in the coming cultural milieu.
Wendy Steiner wrote the librettos for two operas composed by Paul Richards: The Loathly Lady (2009) and Biennale (2013), and the lyrics of the song cycle O America (2018) by composer Mark Rimple.
Her digital piece, Traces on the Farther Side (composer, Frances White; co-director, Andrew Lucia) is on exhibit in the 2019 Venice Biennale. Until 2013, she was the Richard L. Fisher Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania, and is the author of numerous scholarly and trade books on culture, including The Real Real Thing: The Model in the Mirror of Art (2010); Venus in Exile: The Rejection of Beauty in Twentieth-Century Art (2001); and The Scandal of Pleasure: Art in an Age of Fundamentalism (one of “NY Times 100 Best Books of 1996”). Steiner has lectured in museums and universities on four continents.
Here is what Wendy wants you to know about Biennale:
Kate, who writes a beauty secrets column for Woman Magazine, meets a seductive artist named Sandro at the Venice Biennale. Afraid of becoming involved, Kate daydreams a renaissance “Academy of Love” where she and Sandro study under past masters of the art: Countess Caterina Sforza and William Shakespeare. The libretto was inspired by Caterina Sforza’s “secrets book” (c. 1500), a compendium of recipes for turning hair blond, keeping husbands faithful, avoiding wrinkles—in short, the standard content of women’s magazines to this day. Sforza was formidable: a “prince” admired by Machiavelli, the model for Botticelli’s graces in the Primavera, and today, a foul-mouthed villain in the video game, Assassin's Creed II. Biennale weaves these strands together, as Caterina and Shakespeare compete to give Kate the heart to try out love just one more time.
Biennale is Paul Richards and Wendy Steiner’s second opera. The first, The Loathly Lady, was selected for Hartford Opera Theater’s New in November showcases in 2017 and 2018.
Here is what Wendy had to say about Opera for the 22nd Century:
I have enough trouble imagining the future in our century, never mind the next, but my hope is that opera will continue to find ever more intricate ways to combine disparate arts, to illuminate the human condition, and to create the supreme delight that no other art form can deliver. I also hope it will overcome the financial and practical difficulties of 21st-century productions and become a "people’s art" once again.
Thanks for tuning in again to our Opera for the 22nd Century blog! We hope you are planning to join us on Sunday, November 17 for our 10th annual New in November Festival performance at Christ Church Cathedral's Cathedral House in downtown Hartford. Tune in next Sunday for our final composer/librettist Spotlight Sunday, featuring Starsong and its creators: Elliot Yokum and Sarah Barker. Watch our social media pages this week to learn more about Biennale, Paul Richards and Wendy Steiner!