Ned Rorem's opera Our Town, based on the renowned play by Thornton Wilder, receives its first European staging on 29 May at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London.
Our Town, the three-act opera by Ned Rorem composed in 2005, is staged in Europe for the first time at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, with performances on 29 and 31 May, 2 and 6 June. The new production by Stephen Medcalf features students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and is conducted by Clive Timms. The libretto by J.D. McClatchy, is based on the 1938 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Thornton Wilder which ascribed transcendental values to life in a small New England town and rapidly acquired status as an American classic.
The story follows the lives of two small town families, the Gibbs family and the Webb family, both of whom live in the New England community of Grovers Corner, New Hampshire, just after the turn of the twentieth century. A stage manager introduces the two sets of parents and we meet their respective high school aged children, George Gibbs (star of the basketball team) and Emily Webb (the best student in the class). We follow their path to marriage and the tragedy of Emily's death in childbirth. The world continues, sweeping aside their personal joys and sorrows.
> Read a full synopsis of Rorem's Our Town
> Download an information sheet on Our Town
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Our Town is the most recent of Ned Rorem’s seven operas, and his only full-evening work other than Miss Julie (1965) based on the Strindberg play. Thornton Wilder and his estate had previously turned down all approaches from composers wishing to adapt Our Town as an opera, including Copland and Bernstein (though Copland created a score to the film version). The Wilder scholar J.D. McClatchy succeeded in persuading the estate that Rorem was the ideal composer, and provided a libretto streamlining the full-evening play. Since its premiere at Indiana University in 2006, the opera has received over 50 performances around the USA, its chamber orchestra scoring making it ideal for smaller opera companies and conservatoire performance.
The New York Times applauded Ned Rorem as the best possible choice to compose an operatic Our Town "and not only because he wrote an intimate chamber opera to match the play’s spareness. Our Town opens with a hymn, and Rorem retained and refracted the familiar melody… as if the music were heard through the lens of nostalgia that turned it sepia…. Deftly matching the character of the play, Rorem’s music is accessible, singable, and full of integrity."
The Financial Times noted how "Rorem’s many songs demonstrate a capacity for wit and intimate expression that served the 82-year-old composer well in Our Town... Langorous melodic lines or fragments, often with an unmistakable Americana flavour, interact in the orchestra, and the vocal parts engagingly follow suit. If Wilder’s play is to have music, Rorem’s is credible and often exquisite."
Words and music are inextricably linked for Ned Rorem - he has been called ‘the world’s best composer of art song’ by Time magazine - yet his musical and literary ventures extend far beyond this specialised field. As well as hundreds of songs and operas he has composed symphonies, concertos, chamber and choral works. He is the author of sixteen books, including five volumes of diaries and collections of lectures and criticism. Born in 1923, Rorem celebrates his 90th birthday next year, and is resident in New York City.
> Further information on Work: Our Town
Photo: Ned Rorem (Credit Christian Steiner)
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