Thursday, Nov. 15, 2007

Artist inspires new opera

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
Melissa Schiel plays one of the characters that comes alive from a painting by Edward Hopper in the new opera, ‘Later the Same Evening,’ which debuts today in College Park.
Art comes to life this week at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland.

‘‘Later the Same Evening: and opera inspired by five paintings of Edward Hopper” is set to be performed by students and alumni Sunday in College Park and again Dec. 2 at the National Gallery of Art.

The performances coincide with an exhibit of paintings by American artist Edward Hopper, scheduled be on view at the National Gallery of Art through Jan. 21.

The opera is the brainchild of Leon Major, artistic director of the Maryland Opera Studio for the University of Maryland and Stephen Ackert, head of music of the National Gallery of Art.

Major called Librettist Mark Campbell, and Pulitzer Prize-nominated composer John Musto, both of whom were involved with the opera Volpone, which played at Wolftrap in 2004.

‘‘I said it sounded like a good idea,” Campbell said. ‘‘Then I had to go write it. So I went away for a couple of weeks and narrowed down the paintings that I wanted to work on, which also had to be the paintings that would be in the exhibit.”

By process of elimination, Campbell narrowed the paintings down to ones that show scenes of New York City at night.

‘‘Basically I wanted to establish a unity of time and a unity of place and there it was. Then it was a matter of taking these five paintings and contriving a story out of them,” Campbell said.

The five paintings the opera is based on are: Room in New York (1932), Hotel Window (1955), Hotel Room (1931), Two on the Aisle (1927) and Automat (1927).

The paintings ‘‘all depict New York scenes that convey a sense of solitude, welcome and unwelcome, that one can feel in the city. The opera imagines the lives of the figures in these paintings and connects them as characters — both directly and tangentially — on one evening in New York City in 1932,” according to a news release about the opera.

‘‘I just sat with the paintings and let myself fall into them and look at them and the details in each one.

‘‘For example, in Hotel Room I looked at that woman [in the painting] and I noticed that her legs are very long and she’s thin and she’s beautiful and I was thinking ‘oh, she could be a dancer, she could be a ballet dancer.’ And from there the story kind of evolves,” Campbell said.

The story revolves around people who are connected to a performance at a theater —featured in Two on the Aisle — one night. Either they were at the theater or they know somebody who was, Campbell said.

‘‘The characters and situations in [Hopper’s] paintings are often theatrical,” Musto said. ‘‘The paintings are perfect to have a story on and imagine in whatever direction you want to go.”

After Campbell wrote the words, Musto had to put them to music, to bring the opera to life.

‘‘There’s all types of music in this: show music, blues, big theatrical numbers. Whatever the drama required,” Musto said.

‘‘It’s a very fun, engaging show with lots of tunes.”

The opera was co-commissioned by the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and the UM School of Music.

‘‘At the University of Maryland, we welcome opportunities to work with the other great institutions in the nation’s capital,” said Susie Farr, executive director, CSPAC.

‘‘Later the Same Evening creates an important occasion to expose the wonderful young singers of the Maryland Opera Studio to the creative process from conception through performance.”

Working with the University of Maryland proved to be a boon to the creative process.

‘‘The nice thing is that UMD has been wonderfully supportive of this whole project and has helped the collaborative process along really well,” Campbell said.

‘‘It was a dream working here. Once we open, this piece will have been in rehearsal for two months.

‘‘That’s unheard of. Usually you’re lucky if you get two weeks,” Musto said. ‘‘The singers are very dedicated and gifted.”

IF YOU GO

Later The Same Evening

When: 7:30 p.m., today through Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on the University of Maryland, College Park campus

Tickets: $20, $7 students

Information: 301-405-2787