On May 1, Opera America presents “Creators in Concert” featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Paul Moravec.
This up-close-and-personal evening showcases an informal talk focusing on the composer’s creative process. Mark Scorca, Opera America’s president and CEO, hosts. The event also features musical excerpts from Moravec’s critically acclaimed opera The Shining (Minnesota Opera, 2016 – based directly on the celebrated Stephen King novel) and the composer’s recent, oratorio Sanctuary Road (Oratorio Society of New York, Carnegie Hall 2018, which features texts by American Underground Railroad conductor and historian William Still). Both works were written in collaboration with Pulitzer Prize-winning librettist Mark Campbell. Performers for the evening include: sopranos Devony Smith and Meredith Lustig; baritones Jesse Blumberg and Adrian Rosas; pianist Michael Barrett; violinist Tien-Hsin Cindy Wu, and cellist Alexis Gerlach.
We asked Moravec to share some thoughts about his upcoming “Creators” evening.
S: Paul, both works – The Shining and Sanctuary Road – were collaborative projects with Mark Campbell and are both large-scale works. Was the creative process different between the varying styles of opera and oratorio? Or was it similar because you had first worked together on the opera?
Moravec: The key difference between the process of creating The Shining vs. Sanctuary Road is the workshop system necessary for an opera. An opera is a multi-collaborative, extraordinarily complex creative effort — lots of moving parts. The workshop process is essential because one can assess the effectiveness of a particular musical scene only when it is “on it’s feet”, that is performed/interpreted by living, breathing singers and other musicians. The Shining went through several drafts and innumerable revisions — large and small — over a two-year period.
S: The Shining and Sanctuary Road were commissioned works. Minnesota Opera approached you with the idea of adapting Stephen King’s story into an opera. However, for Sanctuary Road, how did you choose the topic? Were you already familiar with William Still’s historic texts?
Moravec: Oratorio Society of NY approached me about commissioning an oratorio — I suggested something on the subject of the Underground Railroad. Mark Campbell came up with the inspired idea of focusing on the figure of William Still and letting him carry the narrative. Mr. Still’s true historical significance has been under-represented by historians, in my view. For instance, even after all this time, a full-length, stand-alone biography of this remarkable figure is yet to be written and published.
S: The Shining and Sanctuary Road are very different subjects; but, both stories are compelling. Is there some underlying theme that runs between the two works? You previously described The Shining as a story about a group of people – a family to be precise – who try to stay together under extraordinary circumstances. Could a similar thought be connected to Sanctuary Road – an actual historic account of numerous real people who shared their individual and difficult stories of survival en route to their freedom from slavery?
Moravec: Yes, both works tell the stories of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary, often terrifying circumstances.
S: What’s next on your list of works that include text settings? What can we look forward to?
Moravec: I just completed a song, setting a text by a homeless/shelter person named Aria to be premiered in May as part of Kelly Hall-Tompkins’ MUSIC KITCHEN project in New York City. Soprano Adrienne Danrich, joined by a string quartet, will premiere it. These days, I’m mostly working on a big, new oratorio about Ellis Island, with another libretto by Mark Campbell.