Theater director Lorca Peress is directing two one act operas opening this weekend at Queen College’s Goldstein Theater. My Kinsman, Major Molineau (making its New York premiere) and The Image Maker (making its world premiere) were both composed by Bruce Saylor and are conducted by Ms. Peress’s father Maurice Peress, the legendary conductor and author of Dvorak to Duke Ellington: A Conductor Explores America’s Music and Its African American Roots . (When we covered it for Sound of the City, we had the pleasure of having Maestro Peres as our date at the world premiere of Philip Glass’s Symphony No. 9 in Carnegie Hall last January, where he had once worked as Leonard Bernstein’s assistant.)
We interviewed Ms. Peress over the phone last week about the new pieces, working with her dad, and creating new work at Queens College.
I had the chance to see the amazing concert you directed with your father at Riverside Church in 2009, on Abraham Lincoln’s 200th birthday, when Sam Waterston and Ruby Dee and, hundreds musicians performed “The Lonesome Train.” Was that the first time you collaborated with him?
I’ve sung under him, and done concert narration with him as a performer. But that was the first time it that capacity, where I was directing and he was conducting. It was fun.
There were, what — 300 people involved?
On the stage alone! It was kind of crazy.
I’ve been reading a writing a lot about “opera” lately, and how it’s transformed since Robert Wilson came on the scene. The word has a wide latitude. People like Rufus Wainwright are writing operas now. What does the word mean to you?
I think it’s the art form that is truly collaborative. In those terms, its the truest form of collaboration — for me, at least. I’ve always been drawn to multi-disciplinary elements in theatre. In these works, there’s European tradition, and we’ve brought in Afro-Cuban dancers. We’re crossing genres. We have dance, we have music, we have amazing projections by Obie Winner Jan Hartley. For me, I see opera as the pinnacle of theater performance.
Are these works part of the European tradition of classical opera?
They’re two different operas. In Molineau, it was originally written in 1976. It was Bruce’s premiere opera.
The music in that piece is very abstract, atonal, hard. It’s a difficult piece, and it’s emotionally difficult. It’s a nightmare of a show, and terrible things happen. It’s about a kid who shows up in a town, and terrible things happen to him. He’s trying to find his kinsman, who will set him up, during the American Revolution. When people hear his kinsman’s name, everyone turns on him. Finally, he realizes at the end that his kinsman has been tarred and feathered. It’s very dramatic, and the music supports it, with quick, crazy rhythms and dissonant chords. It’s a very exciting opera. We have a man with a mask, and the face keeps changing colors during the aria.
The first piece wakes everyone up. The second piece, The Image Maker, is a world premiere. Bruce just finished the orchestrations. We had a score, but up until yesterday he was still making changes to the orchestrations. The singers are fantastic. The music is much slower, much more melodic and lyrical, and it also deals with key structure and doesn’t resolve in the way you think it might.
How big is the orchestra?
Molineau is smaller. It was originally written for chamber. Bruce expanded it to 20, 22. The cast in that opera is 16.
The Image Maker is a larger orchestra, 35 I believe, and that has a cast of 18, including the dancers and chorus.
What’s it like working at Queens College? Is this all through the Aaron Copland School of Music?
It’s with the Copland School and the department of dance. The level of talent is amazing. We have some really talented people working here, teaching here. Our cast include professionals and and students working as professionals. These are not young kids. Some are in their late 20s, doing graduate work. And they’re all really amazing.
Ms. Peress teaches theater at NYU, is the Artistic Director of the theater company MultiStages, and is the co-president of the League of Professional Theater Women. My Kinsman, Major Molineu and The Image Maker premiered last night at Queen College’s Goldstein Theater and are playing tonight and tomorrow.