16 September 2010

Opera Premiere in the Lehigh Valley

On October 25th, my interview with composer Paul Salerni will appear on this blog. However, I encourage you to get to know his music before that time and, if you live in Eastern PA, to consider attending the premiere of his new one-act Opera, “The Life and Love of Joe Coogan.” The description below comes from my interview with the composer and our email discussions.

“The Life and Love of Joe Coogan” is an adaptation of a Dick Van Dyke TV Show episode originally written by Carl Reiner, with a libretto by poet Kate Light. It was written as the companion piece for Salerni’s other one-act, “Tony Caruso Final's Broadcast” (2004; libretto by Dana Gioia). “Joe Coogan” is a funny, light-hearted opera with semi-serious human twists and turns. Underneath amusing cases of misunderstanding lies a thoughtful examination of love: temporal, divine, and poetic. Sonnets are essential to both the plot and the language: Salerni chose the poet Kate Light as librettist because he considers her one of the best sonnet writers in the country. As a violinist in the New York City Opera orchestra, Light also has a musician’s ear. In keeping with the storyline and the opera’s TV origin, Salerni’s music is also “light,” moseying towards the musical theater side of the operatic spectrum. All of the music is in some way derived from the opening chords and motives of the Dick Van Dyke TV Show theme music written by Earl Hagen.

This opera will be performed at the Zoellner Arts Center at Lehigh University in Bethlehem on Saturday, September 25th at 8 pm and Sunday, September 26th at 3 pm, in Baker Hall.

Paul’s work as a composer covers a variety of styles; I encourage you to browse his website and listen to the audio clips. Listening through a series of selections of his compositions is almost like a little tour through music history. Some pieces are driven by Baroque rhythms; some develop through Classical harmonic structures; some soothe and thrill with Romantically memorable melodic contours; and some show Modern atonal influences. He is fluent in approaches as various as serialism, minimalism, free atonality, straightforward common practice tonality, and jazz idioms. He has been influenced by formal training as a composer and his work as a performer in rock and jazz bands. But his main goal, no matter the genre or instrumentation, is to communicate a story as directly as possible.

So come on out for “The Life and Love of Joe Coogan,” a pleasant opera by an important and fascinating composer! And then come back here on October 25th for my interview with Paul Salerni.

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