Lovers escaping racial persecution during the Bosnian War, a mother struggling to reunite with her son at a Nazi concentration camp and a dominatrix with a new client with odd fantasies are subjects of three of the eight operas that will be presented during the Fort Worth Opera’s second annual Frontiers showcase in May during its 2014 festival.
Frontiers, part of the company’s Opera Unbound initiative, aims to find and help develop contemporary works — some still in progress, others completed and looking for performance opportunities.
It’s also a chance for local opera fans to get a peek at up-and-coming composers’ works that could be developed into critically acclaimed operas performed at venues around the world.
The composers and librettists will present 20-minute snippets, performed by artists from the Fort Worth Opera Festival, before the public and a panel of opera-development experts from across the country.
“Our 2013 Showcase taught us all a lot about the lack of community among America’s upcoming composers and librettists, and we have increased our efforts to help that community connect to each other and to our audiences,” Kurt Howard, Fort Worth Opera producing director and Frontiers curator, said in a written statement about the 2014 selections. “The works that are being presented in 2014 are a broader range of works in progress, from composers looking for guidance in the craft to teams that are ready to have their works presented to the public.”
The eight operas selected for the 2014 showcase were culled from 30 submissions, including two from Canada and one from Mexico, FWO says. They are:
• In a Mirror, Darkly, by composer Christopher Weiss and librettist S. O’Duinn Magee. This is a three-act “composite” opera in which each act builds upon the others (and are set in three different places and eras: Camelot, 1890s Paris and post-World War II Manhattan). It’s about women struggling to prove themselves and escape societal norms.
• Fertile Ground, by composer David Vayo and librettist Nancy Steele Brokaw, about Midwestern farms and farmers. (Listen to A Farmer’s Life is Crazy, Fertile Ground and The Siblings Meet/Business from the work at www.davidvayo.com/audio.htm.)
• Precari, by composer Brent Straughan, described by the FWO as “a tale of two lovers attempting to escape the racial persecution plaguing Sarajevo during the Bosnian War, and their tragic end.”
• Something to Live For, by Ronnie Reshef, which follows a mother during World War II attempting to reunite with her 8-year-old son in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. (To listen to selections from the opera and watch a trailer, visit www.ronniereshef.com/html/showcase.php.)
• Voir Dire, by Matthew Peterson and Jason Zencka, which follows the love-gone-terribly-wrong story of a 16-year-old boy on trial for beating his mother nearly to death and setting her on fire. It is based on one of the trials Zencka witnessed as a crime reporter in Wisconsin. The work won the 2011 Opera Vista competition in Houston. (Listen to an aria at www.matthew-peterson.com.)
• Safe Word, by composer Robert Paterson and librettist David Cote. This is one act of a three-act opera about a dominatrix whose new client has an odd fantasy she refuses to fulfill. It has a twist at the end, leading to an “interesting revelation,” the FWO says.
• Alex in Transition, by Anthony Green, about a transgender woman going through the “processes of denial, discovery, acceptance, surgery, transitioning and post-op life,” the FWO says.
• Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, by Grammy-winning composer and librettist Herschel Garfein, based on Tom Stoppard’s famous 1966 comedy — a retelling of Hamlet. (To watch and listen to selections from the work, visit http://rosandguil.com.)
Reshef’s Something to Live For was one of six submissions by female composers.
The powerful story of a mother looking for her child in a concentration camp came from a conversation Reshef had with a man two years ago who suggested she write an opera about something she could identify with, because “when things come naturally, they come the best way,” she said by phone from New York.
“I have a 3-year-old, and I’m from Israel, and when he came up with it, it connected with me as a mother. I felt almost goosebumps,” said the 34-year-old composer.
Although she already knew the subject of the Holocaust fairly well, she said, she ordered all the books New York Public Library housed about it — 20 or 30, some fictional, some accounts of survivors, some historical surveys — and read from each one.
“My first hope [for this opera] is the natural hope of every artist that creates something. I hope for my work to reach as many people as it can,” she said. “My second hope is … the important thing is the historical part of it — telling the story of World War II and the Holocaust and of the Jewish people. It’s a story that has to be mentioned and remembered and learned from.”
The opera is complete and has been workshopped, and is now in the revision process, she said. It will receive a full production premiere at the Boston Metro Opera during the 2014-15 season. Reshef said she hopes her presentation at Frontiers in May will help her continue to perfect it.
“I’m sure the experience in Fort Worth will make me understand better what direction the work has to go in,” she said. “Each performance teaches me something about the work, and the exposure in front of the audience and the distinguished panel looks fantastic. I’m very excited to share [the opera] with an audience that is not musicians, and with the panelists.”