Vonnegut-penned work to lead Indy Opera’s new season

Continuing its climb out of near-disappearance, the Indianapolis Opera announced Thursday the slate of productions that will comprise the core of its 2016-17 season.

Highest profile among them: a world premiere adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.’s play “Happy Birthday, Wanda June” with a libretto by the author and music by Richard Auldon Clark of Butler University.

The production—which has received the endorsement of the Indiana Bicentennial Commission as a Legacy Project—will kick off the Opera's new season Sept. 16 at the Schrott Center.

Clark, Butler’s director of instrumental activities, began working with Vonnegut on an operatic adaptation of his 1970 play in 2005. The collaboration continued until two weeks before the author’s death in 2007. It remained unproduced, Clark said, because he couldn’t bring himself to work on the piece for years after Vonnegut died.

“Happy Birthday, Wanda June” concerns the conflicts that arise when a Hemingway-esque hunter returns home after being missing for years and presumed dead. His surprise arrival—and macho world view—disrupts the new lives of his wife, her suitors, and his son. A 1971 film version starred Rod Steiger and Susannah York. With a production budget of over $200,000, the opera’s cast size will mimic that of the play, with nine performers, who will be partnered with an orchestra of 16 musicians.

Casting will be announced after workshops in the spring. Directing will be Eric Einhorn, a Metropolitan Opera staff director who has staged shows at the Cotton Club and the Bronx Zoo in addition to more traditional opera venues.

Clark’s portfolio includes previous musical pieces based on Vonnegut’s work, some of which were collected on the 2012 CD “Mother Night/Breakfast of Champions” (Keuka Classical).

"[He] has chosen a musical language that reflects the music of the period,” said Kevin Patterson, general director for the Indianapolis Opera, of Clark’s score. “The music represents a pastiche of style and forms. Kurt was fond of the sitcoms of the 1960s and 70s and Richard tried to reflect that stylistic quality in the score.”

Also in the works for the season, a November production of Rossini’s “The Barber of Seville” will mark IO’s first production at the Tarkington at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

The post-modern opera, “The Jewel Box,” featuring a mash-up Mozart score and a libretto by New Yorker music critic Paul Griffiths, brings the company back to the Schrott in March 2017.

After the cancellation of the final production of its 2013-14 season, IO skipped the 2014-15 season entirely. It returned to the stage this season under the direction of Patterson, who joined the company in 2015. Its next production, Jan. 30-31, is an “Opera’s Rising Stars” concert at the Schrott Center featuring Metropolitan Opera National Council Finalists.

Tickets to “Happy Birthday, Wanda June” will not go on sale until Aug. 1. Subscriptions to the entire season will be available beginning May 2.


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