The Mountain Times

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Opera in the ‘50s

Recently Zeke Hecker presented "Finding a Voice: American Opera in the 1950's" at the OSHA program in the Godnick in Rutland. It left the audience spell bound. Hecker lives in Vermont, is a composer, English teacher, lecturer in opera and leader of teacher workshops at the Metropolitan.

In two hours he covered a breathtaking amount of information and showed operatic clips. The central part of his talk was about the development of opera. In the postwar period the economy flourished and there were more composers, singers, audiences and philanthropists. Opera houses were built in Dallas, Houston, Santa Fe, Tulsa, Minneapolis, Seattle and Louisville (1950-1960). For the first time industry began funding opera though the Ford Foundation and America began producing its' own operas.

Hecker defined American Opera as written in English about the innocent, the outsider, reflecting the American Dream, and portraying ordinary people in their words and music. He played  "Ain't it a Pretty Night" from Susannah (1950) which was set in Appalachia; "Willow Song" from the Ballad of Baby Doe from Colorado and "Laura's Song" from the Tender Land - Aaron Copeland's opera about the depression and the Midwest. These fit the definition, but The Consol (1950) reflected the Cold War. Music and libretto writer Gian Menotti won the Pulitzer Prize for Music.

In a clip from The Consul, the central figure Magda argues with the Consul's secretary about her desperate need to see the Consul. She raves in song to the secretary, "Have you ever seen the Consul? Does he speak, does he breathe? Have you spoken to him?" Later she goes about the waiting room singing in total despair and throws papers everywhere in the air.

The Greatest American Opera ever written, every song a success, was Porgy and Bess (1935) written by George Gershwin and his brother. It was considered a musical until it appeared as an opera on the Metropolitan stage (1985). Hecker played a video of the opening song, a mother singing to a baby alone on the stage. "Summertime, and the livin' is easy - Your daddy's rich And your mamma's good lookin' So hush little baby, Don't you cry." Suddenly the lights come on, the shades on the windows are pulled up and the Rutland audience returned to reality.

Tagged: Killington Art's Guild