SCHOENBERG IN HOLLYWOOD
An Opera by Tod Machover
Music by Tod Machover
Libretto by Simon Robson
Based on a Scenario by Braham Murray
Commissioned by Boston Lyric Opera
Performance running time is approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.
TALKBACKS will be held immediately following each performance.
WED 14 | 7:30 PM SOLD OUT
THU 15 | 7:30 PM
SAT 17 | 7:30 PM
SUN 18 | 3:00 PM SOLD OUT
WORLD PREMIERE | SEARING, INTIMATE PORTRAIT | AN INSPIRING LIFE
The brilliant composer Arnold Schoenberg fled the darkness and despair of Hitler’s Europe and found himself in 1930s Hollywood—a bold, new world of golden sunshine and camera-ready beauty. Can he find a way to reconcile reflection with action, and tradition with revolution? What is the meaning of art in the wake of atrocity?
In this World Premiere from BLO’s New Works Initiative, internationally acclaimed composer Tod Machover, based in Boston, along with librettist Simon Robson, explores a great artist’s personal struggle, finding humor, heroism, and—ultimately—hope.
Arnold Schoenberg’s remarkable life intersected with some of the most traumatic and violent human atrocities of the 20th century—born a Jew in Vienna, he converted to the Lutheran faith as a young adult, served in World War I, faced the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, and re-converted to Judaism just before he and his family fled to the United States as refugees.
Schoenberg in Hollywood dramatizes many of these moments in his life, as the character of Schoenberg strives to find artistic meaning in the wake of brutality and personal loss—an aspiration that all of us, as artists and audience members, share.
Please be aware that this opera depicts unsettling and potentially disturbing images and themes, including: brief, graphic images of the Holocaust; Nazi references and imagery; suicide; irreligious imagery; and a recorded gunshot sound.
“We are America. We are the new world. Now you are safe.”
So sing two young, hopeful, American music students to their teacher. It is 1935. Arnold Schoenberg has escaped the horror of Nazi Germany. The great innovator and self-proclaimed torch-bearer of German music now finds himself a refugee amongst the palm trees of California, playing tennis and teaching music composition at UCLA. “Once upon a time,” he muses, “the future was me. Now…it is annihilation.” How will the exiled artist move forward?
Arnold has accepted an invitation to meet wunderkind MGM producer Irving Thalberg with a view to writing music for the burgeoning film industry. “Find new audiences; find new friends,” Thalberg counsels. This young Mephistopheles offers the modernist the mass audience he has been denied: “We can tell every man’s story,” says the glamorous, ambitious spokesman for the new, universal Art of cinema.
Troubled and tempted all at once, Arnold returns to his students.
“I could play to a million people. And yet…who am I?”
Before he can look forward he must look back. Unable to resist the thought-experiment, he engages with his own, innate musical playfulness : “What if?” he asks. What would the story of his life be, told in the new language of music and movies? “Play!” he tells his students.
“We will do it together,” they sing.
So, aided by his loyal students, he begins an imaginary odyssey through his past.
Childhood is a silent movie, till music arrives with the monthly magazines from which Arnold teaches himself. There follows the soft focus of friendship and musical discovery with the young composer Zemlinsky; then the moonlit, silver screen fantasy of love and courtship of Zemlinsky’s sister, Mathilde.
Marriage and infidelity follow; Arnold is plunged into the film noir of jealousy, a private-eye Bogart on the trail of his own misery.
As he finds his musical individuality, so the critics savage him and his colleagues laud him; he defies them with the élan of the movie musical, dancing through the pain.
Love suffers: “I have pared everything down to the essentials,” he says of his music. “You have pared me down to nothing,” sings the long-suffering Mathilde. As she dies, he pleads: “Don’t leave me alone with Arnold Schoenberg.” With her death, the world descends into the Great War.
From the ruin of Europe, Arnold begins again, armed with a new discovery: “Twelve tones only related to each other.” But in Arnold’s fantasy a new, horrific farce is unleashed: through the distorted lens of the Marx Brothers and animated cartoons, the atrocities of Europe’s anti-Semitism take over.
With the homemade-movie-happiness of a new wife, Gertrud, Arnold takes flight to Paris, and re-converts to Judaism, then, armed with a pair of Wild West revolvers – “a bullet for each tone” – Arnold-as-cowboy heads for Southern California and sanctuary. The Past finally catches up with the Present. Schoenberg in Hollywood. Schoenberg as superhero.
Now he has looked back, how will he go forward, and how to answer Thalberg’s provocative offer?
As all conventions eventually break down, so Arnold indeed finds himself “alone with Arnold Schoenberg,” but responds now with a Vision that unifies all the paradoxes of his life and work. He gives thanks, free, fearless, and ready for action.
Synopsis by Simon Robson, librettist
Jason Allen has been Boston Lyric Opera’s resident Wig and Makeup Designer since 2003. A fixture of the Boston performing arts community, he also works with Huntington Theatre Company, Boston Ballet, and many other organizations in Boston and throughout the country.
ASSISTANT STAGE DIRECTOR
KIRSTEN Z. CAIRNS
ANNIE RABBAT Concertmaster
Sponsored by Willa & Taylor Bodman
Omar Ebrahim has been involved with many contemporary opera and concert performances, including Osborne’s The Electrification of the Soviet Union, Tippett’s New Year and Birtwistle’s The Second Mrs. Kong for Glyndebourne Festival Opera; Berio’s Un Re in Ascolto, Birtwistle’s Gawain for the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; Hans Jürgen von Bose’s 63 Dream Palace and Peter Lieberson’s King Gesar for the Munich Biennale and Tanglewood; and many more. He sang in the highly acclaimed performance of Birtwistle’s The Mask of Orpheus at the South Bank Centre’s Birtwistle Festival, and concert performances of Philip Glass’ Satyagraha at SBC London and the title role in Laman’s Agamemnon at the Holland Festival. As an actor, he has performed Schoenberg’s Ode to Napoleon at the Salzburg Festival as well as at the Royal Festival Hall with the London Philharmonic; he also played Archie Cannibal in Chips with Everything at Leeds Playhouse, and Alan Yentob in the new musical Committee at the Donmar Warehouse. Recent highlights include Liza Lim’s Tongue of the Invisible with Ensemble Musikfabrik, Bartolo in The Marriage of Figaro for English Touring Opera, and Danaos in a new version of Aeschylus’ The Suppliant Women with the Actors Touring Company. This is his Boston Lyric Opera debut.
Sponsored by Mimi Hewlett
Sara Womble is a BLO Jane and Steven Akin Emerging Artist alumna, where her recent roles have include Barbarina in The Marriage of Figaro (while covering Susanna), the Shepherdess in Tosca, and Gretel in an educational production of Hansel and Gretel. Other recent engagements include Ilia in Opera NEO’s Idomeneo, Countess Ceprano in North Carolina Opera’s Rigoletto, Susanna in Point Loma Opera’s Le Nozze di Figaro, St. Margaret in Odyssey Opera’s Jeanne d’Arc au Bûcher, and Zerlina in Opera NEO’s Don Giovanni, and her North Carolina concert debut as a soprano soloist in Handel’s Messiah with the Winston-Salem Symphony. This spring, Ms. Womble will return to BLO to sing Lucia in The Rape of Lucretia and will appear as Frasquita in North Carolina Opera’s Carmen. She received a Master of Music in Voice from Boston University, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Music Performance from Duke University, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude.
Sponsored by Katie & Paul Buttenwieser
Jesse Darden returns to BLO as the Company’s first Principal Artist-in-Residence, performing in all four operas of the 2018/19 Season. This summer, Mr. Darden returned to Santa Fe Opera singing the Officer in Ariadne auf Naxos and covering the role of Robert Wilson in Doctor Atomic; he previously served as an Apprentice Artist with the company in 2017, and has also completed apprenticeships with Chautauqua Opera and Opera North. Mr. Darden was a New England Regional Finalist with the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, won Third Prize in the Gerda Lissner International Voice Competition, and was a recipient of the Chautauqua Opera Studio Artist Award. He has performed roles and solos with Odyssey Opera, Dartmouth College, Piedmont Opera, Chautauqua Opera, and the Chautauqua Symphony. Mr. Darden is also a BLO Jane and Steven Akin Emerging Artist alumnus.
Both Sara Womble and Jesse Darden round out the cast by playing multiple additional characters.
*Boston Lyric Opera Debut
†Boston Lyric Opera Jane and Steven Akin Emerging Artist
‡Boston Lyric Opera Jane and Steven Akin Emerging Artist Alumnus
Meet the Creators
TOD MACHOVER | COMPOSER
Called “America’s most wired composer” by The Los Angeles Times and a “musical visionary” by The New York Times, Tod Machover is recognized as one of the most innovative composers active today, and he is celebrated for inventing new technologies that expand music’s potential for everyone, from celebrated virtuosi to musicians of all abilities. Machover studied with Elliott Carter and Roger Sessions at The Juilliard School and was the first Director of Musical Research at Pierre Boulez’s IRCAM in Paris. He is Academic Head of the MIT Media Lab (Cambridge USA), where he is also Muriel R. Cooper Professor of Music and Media, and Director of the Opera of the Future Group. Machover is also Visiting Professor of Composition at the Royal Academy of Music in London and Visiting Professor of Composition at the Curtis Institute of Music. Machover is particularly known for his critically acclaimed, award-winning operas, from the Tolstoy-inspired Resurrection to the “robotic” Death and the Powers, and for his collaborative City Symphonies that “have rethought the symphony as a community event” (Mark Swed, Musical America).
SIMON ROBSON | LIBRETTIST
Simon Robson studied Politics and Philosophy at St. Catharine’s College, Cambridge and Acting at The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. His first play The Ghost Train Tattoo was premiered at the Royal Exchange in 2001, and his collection of short stories The Separate Heart was published in 2004 and short-listed for the prestigious Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. His first novel Catch appeared in 2010. Both are published by Jonathan Cape. Since then, he has adapted Purcell’s The Indian Queen for Les Arts Florissants and written the narration for Carolyn Samson’s Marie Fel concerts with Ex Cathedra. His most recent commission was to both curate and perform a concert of Shakespeare songs and speeches with Anne-Sofie von Otter and Julius Drake for the Oxford Lieder festival. He has just completed work on his second novel.
BRAHAM MURRAY | SCENARIO
Braham Murray was a Founding Artistic Director of the Royal Exchange Theatre Company for whom he directed over 70 productions. The final one was Leonard Bernstein’s Wonderful Town with The Halle Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder in the pit. In 1964, his Oxford production of Hang Down Your Head and Die transferred to the West End and Broadway. From the Century Theatre, where he was Artistic Director, he became a Founding Director of the ‘69 Theatre Company; credits include She Stoops to Conquer and Charley’s Aunt (with Tom Courtenay) and Mary Rose (with Mia Farrow).
SCHOENBERG IN HOLLYWOOD PRODUCTION SPONSORS
We recognize and thank our production sponsors for their generous and visionary support of this World Premiere:
M. Steinert & Sons
National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency
Jane & Jeffrey Marshall, with special support for Tod Machover, composer
David & Marie Louise Scudder, with special support for Simon Robson, librettist
Mr. & Mrs. Ray Stata, with special support for Braham Murray, original production concept
Linda Cabot Black, with special support for David Angus, conductor
Susan & Dennis Shapiro, with special support for Karole Armitage, stage director
Emerson Paramount Center
ROBERT J. ORCHARD STAGE
559 Washington Street, Boston
Originally a 1930s cinema palace, the Robert J. Orchard Stage had closed in 1976 and fallen into disrepair by the time Emerson College purchased the building in 2005. Enchantingly restored in lively Art Deco style, the newly reopened Paramount Center’s largest facility is a 596-seat theatre (see in 360º view) with a brand new stage and orchestra pit. As the newest attraction in Boston’s Theatre District, the Robert J. Orchard Stage evokes the thrill of American cinema’s Golden Age while hosting world-class performing artists.
Seating is divided into two levels: Orchestra and Balcony.
The Balcony is accessible by stairs in the main lobby and elevator access to the back of the balcony
There is elevator access to the balcony
Restrooms are located in the lower lobby, and second floor, which is accessible by elevator.
Listening devices are available at the box office windows in the lobby.
There is no coat check available at the Paramount Center
FOOD & BEVERAGE
Concessions will be available for purchase.
Tod Machover, the composer behind Schoenberg in Hollywood, wrote this fascinating and insightful note for the program book of the opera's World Premiere production with Boston Lyric Opera. Read on to learn more about Machover's inspiration, process, and the personal meaning behind this new work.
When crisis hit Boston Lyric Opera, Karole Armitage did not need to step forward as a first responder – she was already on the scene and involved in the Company’s forthcoming World Premiere production of Tod Machover’s Schoenberg in Hollywood.
Schoenberg flourished in the rich soil of Vienna at the turn of the 20th century…a loam full of nutrients such as Freud, Mahler, Schnitzler, but also deeply laced with the toxic wastes of anti-Semitism, virulent nationalism, and rabid conservatism. Surrounded by artists such as Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Oskar Kokoschka, the young composer even seriously considered a career as a painter. This aspect of a protean talent (he was also a renowned teacher, critic, and an important writer on music theory) opens new and revelatory insights into the complexities of this iconic creator.
Arnold Schoenberg juggled multiple national and religious identities during his long creative life: Austrian, German, Jewish, Protestant, American. Born into a Jewish family in 1874 in Vienna, capital of the diverse Austro-Hungarian Empire, he died as an American citizen in Los Angeles in 1951. Although his native language was German, he never possessed either Austrian or German citizenship. He disliked Vienna, the city with which he is most strongly associated, and lived for long periods in Berlin. When the country of his birth dissolved in 1918 at the end of World War I, he became in a real way stateless.
SCHOENBERG IN HOLLYWOOD An Opera by Tod Machover Music by Tod Machover Libretto by Simon Robson Based on a Scenario by Braham Murray Commissioned by Boston Lyric Opera Sung in English with English surtitles Length: Approximately 90 minutes WHO’S WHO OMAR EBRAHIM AS SCHOENBERG | SARA WOMBLE AS GIRL | JESSE DARDEN AS BOY Conducted by David Angus & directed by Karole Armitage, with original production concept by Braham Murray. Scenic Design by Simon Higlett, Costume Design by Nancy Leary, Lighting Design by Pablo Santiago, Media & Projection Design by Peter Torpey, Sound Design by Ben Bloomberg