Mayer: A Death in the Family

Mayer Death...CCOpera production red 300dpi

Courtesy: Center for Contemporary Opera


[William Mayer’s opera A Death in the Family] is rich in lyric atmosphere in both text and score, capturing that sense of indefinable longing for an age of innocence before modern life cast its blight.” — Robert Jacobson, Opera News

Mayer Death in the Family CD cover red 300dpi

Albany Records, The Subito Store

And so, Subito Music Corporation and composer/librettist William Mayer are pleased to announce an exclusive distribution agreement for Mayer’s acclaimed opera A Death in the Family. Stephen Culbertson, founder and President of Subito Music Corporation, comments: “We’re pleased to announce that we’ve entered into an exclusive distribution agreement with William Mayer to represent his opera A Death in the Family. With its well-received world premiere and subsequent productions including the European premiere, we look forward to helping shepherd this opera into the repertoire.” Mayer adds, ‘‘I’m delighted to have Subito Music represent my opera A Death in the Family. ‘Unexpected’ would seem to be the word for this work, as it’s based on two American classics [and] ‘unexpected’ was certainly the word for the recent revivals in Hungary and France of all places… It’s had an amazing genesis and journey, and with European premiere winning the Armel International Opera Competition—followed by its French premiere—I’m looking forward to what’s next!”

Does Grand Opera require “Grand” subject matter?

If so, how could A Death in the Family, the story of an ordinary American family possibly qualify? Opera is known for conveying ‘larger than life’ emotions: thus, the many themes involving gods, saints, monarchs, trickling down to, at the very least, minor nobility…[However,] three days in the lives of a middle class American family is ostensibly a much smaller canvas. But not for James Agee! Agee is deeply concerned with conflict and tragedy…the isolation and loneliness of any family…the fragility of human life measured against the backdrop of the universe…It is this vastness of vision expressed in some of Agee’s finest poetry that seemed just right for [opera]…Agee reminds us of the immense distance the human race has travelled…  — William Meyer

Mayer Death...CCOpera production 2 red 300dpi

Courtesy: Center for Contemporary Opera

Mayer—who wrote both the score and libretto—based his music drama on two classic, Pulitzer Prize-winning American works:James Agee’s novel “A Death in the Family” and Tad Mosel’s play “All the Way Home.” (The libretto includes additional passages from Agee’s journalistic volume “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men”). A Death in the Family tells the story of a Southern family dealing with events before and after the sudden, tragic loss of a family member. The three-act opera premiered in 1983 at the Minnesota Opera directed by H. Wesley Balk and conducted by Philip Brunelle, and was later cited as the best new music theatre work of 1983 by the National Institute for Music Theater. A Death in the Family has subsequently received numerous performances across the country and an NPR broadcast. In October 2012, A Death in the Family received its European premiere when the Center for Contemporary Opera (CCO) (New York, NY) presented the work at the Armel Opera Festival in Hungary where it won the festival’s international opera competition. In June 2013, the CCO/Armel Festival co-production traveled to Avignon to present the opera’s French premiere. CCO performance excerpts may be viewed on YouTube here. A Death in the Family has also been recorded on Albany Records and is available in The Subito Store.

A native of New York City, William Mayer’s diverse career includes composer, pianist, teacher, and writer. A composer of many genres, his music is wide-ranging; and although it is primarily tonal, tonal centers are often merely suggested. It is filled with lyricism and humor, along with contrasting and opposing textures. His music has been performed at the Library of Congress, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Merkin Concert Hall, and the Guggenheim Museum. Large-scale works have been presented and recorded by numerous orchestras in the US and the UK; and, his chamber works and vocal music have been championed by clarinetist Charles Neidich and pianist Christopher Oldfather, Dinosaur Annex, and sopranos Eleanor Steber, Heidi Grant Murphy and Dawn Upshaw.

Mayer attended Yale University, The Juilliard School, and Mannes College of Music, and studied composition with Roger Sessions, Felix Salzer, Otto Luening, Emanuel Balaban and Izler Solomon. His awards include: grants from the NEA, the Ford Foundation and the American Music Society; Guggenheim and MacDowell Fellowships; and a lifetime achievement award in music from the Center for Contemporary Opera. Mayer taught composition and orchestration at Boston University and served as guest lecturer at The Juilliard School, Columbia University, Pratt Institute, the New School and the Yale Graduate School of Music.

NOTE: Rental materials, libretto and vocal score will be available soon.