Production Recording of
Composed by Gregory Spears
Libretto by Kathryn Walat & Gregory Spears;
Conducted by Robert Wood
Featuring: Jonathan Blalock, Keith Phares, Melissa Wimbish, Erin Sanzero, Amanda Crider, Michael Slattery, James Shaffran, and the American Modern Ensemble
National Sawdust Tracks
National Sawdust Tracks released the recording of the chamber opera Paul’s Case, composed by Gregory Spears, libretto by Kathryn Walat and Gregory Spears and conducted by Robert Wood.
Paul’s Case made its World Premiere in 2013 at UrbanArias and was later produced in New York at the PROTOTYPE festival and Pittsburgh Opera. The piece was one of The New Yorker ‘s list of Ten Notable Performances and Recordings of 2014. A two-act chamber opera, Paul’s Case chronicles the dissolution of a high schooler who lives in turn-of-the-20th-century Pittsburgh. Paul spends his free time working as an usher at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Hall before deciding to run away to revel in the luxury of New York City’s Waldorf Astoria hotel. Through the deft use of post-minimal and Baroque styles, the opera reminds us of our own struggle to cope with our given circumstances and desire to break free. The vocal lines, both pastoral and mechanistic, suggest the world of nature, luxury and art that Paul loves and the gilded-age machinery that will eventually destroy him.
Featured artists include the cast from the original UrbanArias production: tenor Jonathan Blalock as Paul; baritone Keith Phares as Father; soprano Melissa Wimbish as History Teacher/Opera Singer 1/Maid 1; soprano Erin Sanzero as Drawing Teacher/Opera Singer 2/Maid 2; mezzo soprano Amanda Crider as English Teacher/Maid 3; tenor Michael Slattery as Yale Boy; and baritone James Shaffran as Principal/Bellboy. Also featured is the American Modern Ensemble Orchestra.
The digital album cast recording is available for $16 athttps://nationalsawdust.bandcamp.com/album/pauls-case.
“The story, instantly recognizable to anyone who has ever dreamed of escape, refinement or belonging, proved poignantly stage-worthy on Wednesday night at Here, where a taut, splendidoperatic adaptation by the composerGregory Spears and the librettistKathryn Walat opened the second annualPrototype festival. Performed byUrbanArias, a young Washington company that specializes in contemporary chamber opera, Cather’s story took on the tones of dream and dance.”
– Steve Smith, The New York Times
“I was haunted most of all by Gregory Spears’s “Paul’s Case,’ based on Willa Cather’s classic 1906 tale of a doomed young Pittsburgh aesthete. … his plaintive, eerie score delves into the inner world of Paul, who defies his teachers, steals from his employer, lives grandly in New York for a few days, and ultimately chooses death over shame. Spears, too, has minimalist roots, and draws also on the bittersweet textures of Renaissance consort music and the vocal ornaments of Baroque opera.”- Alex Ross, The New Yorker
“Now, in only its second season, the festival can claim its first masterpiece, the chamber opera Paul’s Case.” – James Jorden, Observer
Conductor: Robert Wood
Composer: Gregory Spears
Libretto: Kathryn Walat & Gregory Spears
Paul: Jonathan Blalock, tenor
Father: Keith Phares, baritone
History Teacher/Opera Singer 1/Maid 1: Melissa Wimbish, soprano
Drawing Teacher/Opera Singer 2/Maid 2: Erin Sanzero, soprano
English Teacher/Maid 3: Amanda Crider, mezzo soprano
Yale Boy: Michael Slattery, tenor
Principal/Bellboy: James Shaffran, baritone
ABOUT GREGORY SPEARS
GREGORY SPEARS is a New York-based composer whose music has been called “astonishingly beautiful” (The New York Times), “coolly entrancing” (The New Yorker), and “some of the most beautifully unsettling music to appear in recent memory” (The Boston Globe). In recent seasons he has been commissioned by The Lyric Opera of Chicago, Cincinnati Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Seraphic Fire, The Crossing, Volti, BMI/Concert Artists Guild, Vocal Arts DC, New York Polyphony, The New York International Piano Competition, and the JACK Quartet among others. He is currently working on a new evening-length opera, Castor and Patience, with U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, commissioned by Cincinnati Opera and scheduled for premiere in 2020.
Spears’ most recent evening-length opera, Fellow Travelers, written in collaboration with Greg Pierce, premiered at Cincinnati Opera in 2016 and was seen in the 2017-18 season at the Prototype Festival (NYC), The Lyric Opera of Chicago, and in a new production at Minnesota Opera. It was hailed as “one of the most accomplished new operas I have seen in recent years” (Chicago Tribune) and an opera that “seems assured of lasting appeal” (The New York Times). The premiere was featured in The New York Times’ Best in Classical Music for 2016. Cincinnati Opera released a commercial CD recording in 2017.
Paul’s Case is Spears’ first opera, developed initially in collaboration with American Opera Projects. Since the premiere production of Paul’s Case,Spears has seen an explosion of success, earning commissions from numerous opera companies, vocal ensembles and instrumental organizations. He also composed the soundtrack for the British feature film Macbeth (Kit Monkman, director) featuring 18th-century instruments. His music is published by Schott Music and Schott PSNY.
UrbanArias is an eight-year-old opera company dedicated to producing short, contemporary operas. Everything that is produced by UrbanArias is 90 minutes in length or shorter; everything produced was also written within the last 40 years. Its mission is to expose DC-area audiences to engaging, accessible, and entertaining operas; to provide a professional venue at which both established and emerging composers can present their shorter works; to commission new, short operas regularly; and to bring new audiences to the art form through relevant, current material.
UrbanArias has been producing short opera since 2010. Its debut performance was at the Kennedy Center, on a concert of American music sponsored by Vocal Arts DC. In April 2011, UrbanArias produced its first festival of contemporary opera at the newly renovated Artisphere in Arlington to excellent reviews and enthusiastic audiences. UrbanArias presented a second festival in April 2012, which was equally well received. Each festival included three short operas; they also give performances of mini-operas (operas 5 to 25 minutes in length) and “Opera Improv,” in which very skilled and talented singers create operas to the audience’s specifications on the spot. UrbanArias cultivates regular collaborations with both prominent and emerging composers, and productions feature both well-known and emerging artists.
In September 2012, UrbanArias began offering a spring and fall production instead of a festival, as well as numerous one-off performances at various DC-area venues. They produced the world premiere of Gregory Spears’ searing drama Paul’s Case, directed by Kevin Newbury, in April 2013, and were invited to bring the production to New York, where they presented it with the original cast in January 2014 at HERE performing arts center in Manhattan.
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