RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS
RENE ORTH (’16)
Curtis Opera Theatre at the Perelman unites two powerful works into a single production that explores the stories of families in crisis. In Riders to the Sea by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a grief-stricken widow laments the loss of her many sons to the sea. It’s a poignant prelude to Empty the House, a 2016 opera composed by Curtis Institute of Music alumna and Opera Philadelphia Composer in Residence Rene Orth, featuring a libretto by Mark Campbell. In Empty the House, a daughter returns to her childhood home for a weekend with her mother and is confronted by painful memories. Both works explore the complicated relationships between mothers and children, brothers and sisters, the loved and the lost.
CAST (in singing order)
|Riders to the Sea||May 2 and May 4 (evening)||May 4 (matinee) and May 5|
|Nora||Sage DeAgro-Ruopp||Merissa Beddows|
|Cathleen||Olivia Smith||Lindsey Reynolds|
|Maurya||Emily Damasco||Sophia Maekawa|
|Bartley||Patrick Wilhelm||Patrick Wilhelm|
|A Woman||Hannah Klein||Hannah Klein|
|Empty the House||May 2 and May 4 (evening)||May 4 (matinee) and May 5|
|Faith||Sophia Hunt||Sophia Hunt|
|Paul||Dennis Chmelensky||Patrick Wilhelm|
|Brenda||Tiffany Townsend||Tiffany Townsend|
Explore photos from the 2016 premiere of Empty the House
Rene Orth, composer of Empty the House, offers additional insights into her revision of the work for this production.
Have you made any major changes to the opera since its premiere in 2016?
We've certainly made changes. The women are more fleshed out in their stories—they're more human. I've also added more sound design and electronics to mix in with the orchestra. I started out really conservatively with the electronics the first time around, knowing I'd want to explore more as I gained more experience and confidence in opera. The sound design helps with some extra ideas we've added in—for instance a theme of water runs through the piece now, which I think also helps tie it in with Riders to the Sea. I added some interludes as well in between scenes after talking with [stage director] Mary Birnbaum and [librettist] Mark Campbell, with intention to highlight some of the objects featured in the house. And, of course, the orchestration is bigger, moving from a chamber ensemble of 9 to a chamber orchestra of 25. I'm curious to see how this piece will work in a much larger space vs the black-box production we did in 2016.
What has your experience been like working with Mikael Eliasen and Curtis Opera Theatre's singers?
I'm not sure what other school, or director of vocal studies for that matter, would have given a young composer the opportunity to create and truly see an opera project all the way through to a full production. "Learn by doing" has been Curtis's motto, and Mikael gave me an amazing opportunity to do just that with a new opera. Mikael is a most special mentor, and will relinquish control to give artists the freedom to truly create with their own voices. It's been a dream to work with him. The same goes for the Curtis singers. They are most eager, viciously talented, and super-collaborative. It's really fun to work with them in this early stage of their careers, knowing they'll rise to be some of the top artists in the field.
Are you familiar with Riders to the Sea? If so, how do you feel it pairs with Empty the House?
I wasn't, until Mikael suggested it as the piece to fit the other half of the double bill. I think it's a brilliant pairing. It's Vaughan Williams's opus 1, and Empty the House is my first opera ever to be produced. There are similar themes in both works concerning family and loss, and Mary and her team have really beautiful ideas about how to weave the two pieces together on stage. I'm super-excited to see it all come together.
Mikael has assembled a creative team almost entirely of women for this production. Do you have any feelings to share about the importance of supporting women composers (and conductors, directors, etc) in an often-male dominated field?
I think Mikael has assembled the best team possible. I loved working with [conductor] Daniela Candillari and Mary Birnbaum in Double Exposure with Opera Philadelphia last May, and I'm thrilled we have the opportunity to collaborate and create together again.
What's next for you? Do you have any exciting projects in the works to share?
I do have some works in progress, but for now, details are a secret!
The Curtis Opera Theatre season is sponsored by the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and the Wyncote Foundation.
Don Giovanni and Empty the House are presented as part of Curtis Opera Theatre at the Perelman, in partnership with Opera Philadelphia and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.
Empty the House is generously supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency.