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.
ROBERT J. ORCHARD STAGE
559 Washington Street, Boston
WED 14 | 7:30 PM
THU 15 | 7:30 PM
SAT 17 | 7:30 PM
SUN 18 | 3:00 PM
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.