Dominick Argento's POSTCARD FROM MOROCCO


View the full Postcard From Morocco program online or download it for iPad.


Seven travelers find themselves stranded together in a waiting room. They all have luggage that may reveal their professions while concealing their most personal secrets. During a suspenseful and witty game of cat-and-mouse, they probe the possible contents of each other’s luggage and lives, leading to revelations that are delightful, shocking and deeply stirring.

 

Dominick Argento is a Pulitzer Prize and Grammy© Award winner and Postcard From Morocco is lyrical and delightfully fresh, drawing influences from every type of music, from Wagner to ragtime.  Kevin Newbury, whose work on Galileo Galilei was called “vivid and entertaining” by Oregon Music News, returns to direct.  

 

In the intimate Newmark Theatre, the ensemble cast and chamber orchestra will capture your imagination.

 

Sung in English with text projected above the stage.


Cast
Featuring the Portland Opera Resident Artists
in the Newmark Theatre
  
Lady with a Hand MirrorLindsay Russell*
Lady with a Cake BoxCaitlin Mathes
Lady with a Hat BoxMelissa Fajardo
Man with a Paint BoxRyan MacPherson
Man with Old LuggageIan José Ramirez
Man with a Shoe Sample KitAlexander Elliot
Man with a Cornet CaseDeac Guidi*
  
The Creative Team 
  
Stage DirectorKevin Newbury
ConductorWilliam Vendice
Scenic DesignerCurt Enderle
Costume DesignerSue Bonde
Lighting DesignerConnie Yun

 

*Portland Opera Debut

Please note: Dominick Argento's POSTCARD FROM MOROCCO has replaced
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM in the 2013/14 Season.

Postcard from Morocco


From the Librettist’s Note:

“We see each character trying hard to protect whatever small part of himself he has in his suitcase, the symbol of his secret or lack of secret, his dream or lack of dream. It is through the action of these waiting creatures that we see our fears and anxieties, along with the fierce way in which man protects himself from the stranger, his probing wish for company and comfort.” — John Donahue

 

Seven travelers, each unknown to the others, arrive in a waiting room. Each carries a suitcase and a smaller item of a unique nature. None wishes to divulge much personal information to any of the others.
 

The Lady with a Hand Mirror explains that she never travels without such a mirror and that it has many uses. “You can peek over your shoulder at people sneaking up.”
 

Several of the characters discuss the idea of building a ship but cannot decide how to proceed. “We can build a boat made of fire…a Flying Dutchman’s ship. A Roman or Greek ship.”
 

One character sings a song in an exotic language, while the others attempt conversation without much success.
 

The Man with Old Luggage lists the many things that are not to be found in his luggage. “No rare wine or dark potions and powders…”
 

The Man with a Cornet Case announces that he plays the cornet at “weddings, parties, dances” and that his instrument is “valuable and rare,” but he refuses to let others see it.
 

The Lady with a Hat Box is questioned by the other two women. At first they think she makes boxes. It turns out that she makes special hats, upon request for the movies. Her name might be Irene Giroux, but she doesn’t have a card.
 

The orchestra plays a potpourri of palm court tunes. The “Spinning Song” from The Flying Dutchman is part of their repertory.
 

The Man with a Shoe Sample Kit describes the wonders of his wares: “I have shoes for sultan feet, little grass shoes, glass buttons along the sides of high shoes, all shiny leather shoes, high shoes with glass heels, real expensive slippers lined with fuzz or velvet or silk.” He will show them, however, only by appointment.
 

Two of the characters sing an operetta duet. The Lady with a Cake Box explains that she keeps her lover inside the box (“for safe keeping”), that they love to travel, and that they love to dance: “We visit temples and churches, and in a plaza we fed the birds and put our shoes in the water…We sent postcards. When we get off the train next time we may go dancing.”
 

The Man with a Paint Box believes he saw the Lady with a Cake Box many years earlier and sketched her portrait. He also remembers her lover: “He was very handsome. He wore a Spanish hat and carried blossoms to be given to a lady.” The Paint Box man then sings of a childhood memory about a magical sailing vessel. The other characters ask him to paint their portrait and he eventually blurts out his name: Mr. Owen.
 

They continue to question Mr. Owen and jostle him until his suitcase is knocked open…
 

Mr. Owen sings again of the magic ship. He is now its captain: “We sail this summer morning. We sail new waters, uncharted seas with new stars on high and hew sea-beasts at our side. But do not fear! The boat is magical, made out of glass and ice. We’ll sail through fire and clouds…”

Postcard from Morocco


From the Librettist’s Note:

“We see each character trying hard to protect whatever small part of himself he has in his suitcase, the symbol of his secret or lack of secret, his dream or lack of dream. It is through the action of these waiting creatures that we see our fears and anxieties, along with the fierce way in which man protects himself from the stranger, his probing wish for company and comfort.” — John Donahue

 

Seven travelers, each unknown to the others, arrive in a waiting room. Each carries a suitcase and a smaller item of a unique nature. None wishes to divulge much personal information to any of the others.
 

The Lady with a Hand Mirror explains that she never travels without such a mirror and that it has many uses. “You can peek over your shoulder at people sneaking up.”
 

Several of the characters discuss the idea of building a ship but cannot decide how to proceed. “We can build a boat made of fire…a Flying Dutchman’s ship. A Roman or Greek ship.”
 

One character sings a song in an exotic language, while the others attempt conversation without much success.
 

The Man with Old Luggage lists the many things that are not to be found in his luggage. “No rare wine or dark potions and powders…”
 

The Man with a Cornet Case announces that he plays the cornet at “weddings, parties, dances” and that his instrument is “valuable and rare,” but he refuses to let others see it.
 

The Lady with a Hat Box is questioned by the other two women. At first they think she makes boxes. It turns out that she makes special hats, upon request for the movies. Her name might be Irene Giroux, but she doesn’t have a card.
 

The orchestra plays a potpourri of palm court tunes. The “Spinning Song” from The Flying Dutchman is part of their repertory.
 

The Man with a Shoe Sample Kit describes the wonders of his wares: “I have shoes for sultan feet, little grass shoes, glass buttons along the sides of high shoes, all shiny leather shoes, high shoes with glass heels, real expensive slippers lined with fuzz or velvet or silk.” He will show them, however, only by appointment.
 

Two of the characters sing an operetta duet. The Lady with a Cake Box explains that she keeps her lover inside the box (“for safe keeping”), that they love to travel, and that they love to dance: “We visit temples and churches, and in a plaza we fed the birds and put our shoes in the water…We sent postcards. When we get off the train next time we may go dancing.”
 

The Man with a Paint Box believes he saw the Lady with a Cake Box many years earlier and sketched her portrait. He also remembers her lover: “He was very handsome. He wore a Spanish hat and carried blossoms to be given to a lady.” The Paint Box man then sings of a childhood memory about a magical sailing vessel. The other characters ask him to paint their portrait and he eventually blurts out his name: Mr. Owen.
 

They continue to question Mr. Owen and jostle him until his suitcase is knocked open…
 

Mr. Owen sings again of the magic ship. He is now its captain: “We sail this summer morning. We sail new waters, uncharted seas with new stars on high and hew sea-beasts at our side. But do not fear! The boat is magical, made out of glass and ice. We’ll sail through fire and clouds…”

DOMINICK ARGENTO

“My interest is people.” - Dominick Argento

 

A 1971 feature by journalist Robert T. Smith followed librettist and playwright John Donahue to a train station where Donahue liked to people watch.  According to Smith’s article, this train station, where people who are neither here nor there arrive and depart to elsewhere, was the inspiration for Donahue’s libretto for Postcard from Morocco. However, composer Dominick Argento tells a slightly different tale.

 

When he was commissioned by Center Opera to write an opera, Argento approached Donahue to see if he might be interested in writing the libretto:

 

We had some loose conversations about choosing a subject, then decided it should be an original story, not an adaptation.  Eventually he suggested something might be made out of some lines in Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verse:

 

“We built a ship upon the stairs…

But Tom fell out and hurt his knee,

So there was no one left but me.”

 

Argento was “mystified by the suggestion.”  When the libretto Donahue presented him with only  “…a dozen or so typewritten pages unassigned to any specific individual,” Argento was flummoxed.

***
 

Dominick Argento, one of the United States’ most prolific and important operatic composers did not aspire to write opera as a young man.  When he went to music school at Peabody in the early 1950s, opera was not considered serious music.  Indeed, this attitude has been pervasive throughout the serious music world since opera was invented.  To those of this opinion, serious music, means pure music, uncorrupted by the weight of words or narrative.  Initially for the callow Argento, “Songs were little accidents that happened.”

 

Those accidents came to dominate his composing life as Argento has spent the lion’s share of his career writing for voices.  Perhaps his wife Carolyn Bailey drew him into a greater appreciation for the power and possibility of the human voice.  “I did what Mozart and Verdi did.  I married a soprano,” quipped Argento in a 2012 article by Anne Midgette in the Washington Post.

***
 

 “I’m more interested in character than I am in story… That’s the real marvel of music in an opera or a song cycle.  You can deal with a character.”  Argento’s interest in character opened a door into Donahue’s libretto, barely more than a postcard itself.  Donahue’s lines are atmospheric and impressionistic.  Argento, who knew his casts’ relative strengths and weaknesses, assigned them each lines, not necessarily in the order Donahue had presented.  Cutting the libretto apart into strips each containing a sentence and taping them together in the order he could hear them sung, enabled Argento to create a surrealist piece with great evocative power.

 

­­­

John Donahue’s 1971 interview in the Greyhound Station gives us a foothold to appreciate Postcard from Morocco from a psychological perspective.  Unencumbered by a linear plot, it is more easily understood as a series of moments and impressions.  Donahue imagines the back-stories and internal motivations of a group of strangers in a place full of strangers.  He contextualizes them through an observer’s filter, with no real knowledge of them, and they become mysterious because they are only knowable in this one situation. 

 

Donahue’s description of the Greyhound Station is the set up for Postcard.

 

[A train station] is a strange world in itself.  It’s where people think of what’s happened to them and what will happen to them before the whistle blows…Most people here are insecure.  They’re vulnerable.  Very seldom do they try to talk to anybody…very few people have the courage to travel with nothing.  To say, “I’m going to deal with what’s ahead when I get to it.”  Your suitcase contains the belongings that represent your needs.

 

This series of moments and impressions, the idea of a train station as global collective within which one can hyper-focus on an individual character, is supported by Argento’s “hodge-podge of different kinds and styles of music” (to quote the composer).  He feels Postcard represents his first “mature” work in which he finds his “voice.”  In Postcard from Morocco, Argento begins to crystallize the techniques which would characterize his style going forward:  interpolating popular forms into the work, burlesquing classical forms, skillfully manipulating serial music techniques to his own lyrical ends, and above all, writing music grateful to and gratifying for singers.

***

­­­

Dominick Argento is a living composer and as such, is still able to speak about and reflect on his works.  Despite the fact that Postcard from Morocco is one of Argento’s most performed works, little scholarly material is available to help illuminate an interested reader.  Given this dearth of information, it seemed logical to write to Dr. Argento and ask for an interview.  He most graciously accepted. 

 

Portland Opera:   What was your process working with John Donahue?

 

Argento:  John and I talked over the project.  He referred to the excerpt from Robert Louis Stevenson that is now printed in the score, which baffled me, but I said I trusted him to find something interesting.  He eventually gave me a possible stage setting and situation and about a dozen or so typed pages of unassigned dialogue, dozens and dozens of brief 1 or 2 line sentences.  I sliced up the pages into many strips (each a sentence long) and rearranged them in an order that appealed to me (although I never changed a word nor asked him to do so), then set it to music.  We never discussed it or worked on it together.

 

P.O.:   What appealed to you about the libretto?

 

Argento:  It gave me the opportunity to write the kind of music I wish to write.  As W.H. Auden has said, every libretto is really a love letter to the composer:  It should provide composers a chance to do their best work.

 

P.O.:  After you have completed an opera (particularly an opera as open-ended as Postcard), what is it like to see it realized in subsequent productions?  Do you feel that once you have finished an opera that you have released it to the interpreters, or do you still feel ownership over what is done with it?

 

Argento:  Ownership is gone.  But rightly so.  I’ve seen Postcard dozens of times, sometimes beautifully moving, other times ghastly misdirected affairs.  I take the blame for the bad performances because I realize the libretto is—for any director with avant-garde ideas—a license to kill.  I rarely speak to directors about how to take the work, but when I am asked, I answer just do it simply, give the music and characters room to make their points, don’t clutter it up with fanciful ideas and notions that are not there to begin with.

 

P.O.:  What is your favorite part of Postcard from Morocco?

 

Argento:  The duet between Mr. Owen and the Lady with the Cake Box.  That’s one of those spots where in later years I can’t remember where the idea came from.  Perhaps it was what others call inspiration.

 

 

William Vendice

Conductor 

Previously at Portland Opera: L’Heure Espagnole / L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (2011).


Conductor William Vendice returns to Portland to conduct Postcard from Morocco after Oregon Music News said he “didn’t miss a beat”

 

William Vendice

Conductor 

Previously at Portland Opera: L’Heure Espagnole / L’Enfant et les Sortilèges (2011).


Conductor William Vendice returns to Portland to conduct Postcard from Morocco after Oregon Music News said he “didn’t miss a beat” during Portland Opera’s 2011 Ravel double bill. Mr. Vendicewas Head of Music Staff and Chorus Master at Los Angeles Opera for 12 years and while there, conducted performances of Norma, La Bohème, Hansel and Gretel, Madame Butterfly, and many others.  As a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s conducting staff he has conducted a number of productions, including Lucia di Lammermoor, The Abduction from the Seraglio, and several finals of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He is also a master coach with the Merola Program at San Francisco Opera and the Wagner Intensive at Baldwin Wallace Conservatory.

 

 

Kevin Newbury

Director 

Previously at Portland Opera: Galileo Galilei (2012); Nixon in China (2006).


Kevin Newbury is a director of opera, film and theater who has been praised by The New York Times for bringing “wit and sparkle” to his work...

 

Kevin Newbury

Director 

Previously at Portland Opera: Galileo Galilei (2012); Nixon in China (2006).


Kevin Newbury is a director of opera, film and theater who has been praised by The New York Times for bringing “wit and sparkle” to his work. He has worked with a number of companies in the U.S. and abroad, including Santa Fe Opera, San Francisco Opera, Minnesota Opera, Carnegie Hall, Houston Grand Opera, Opera de Montréal, Bard Summerscape and the Wexford Festival in Ireland. Particularly committed to developing new productions, he has directed a dozen world premiere operas and plays, and his upcoming projects include new productions at San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Canadian Opera Company and many others.  Mr. Newbury's work has been nominated for a Grammy® Award and a Drama Desk Award; his production of Candy and Dorothy won the GLAAD Media Award for Best Play and his production of Virginia for Wexford won the Irish Times Theatre Award for Best Opera Production. He recently completed production on his first film Monsura is Waiting.

 

 

 

Lindsay Russell — Lady with a Hand Mirror

Soprano

Portland Opera Debut 

Lindsay Russell recently made debuts singing The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute with Opera Roanoke, highlights from The Merry Widow...

 

Lindsay Russell — Lady with a Hand Mirror

Soprano

Portland Opera Debut 


Lindsay Russell recently made debuts singing The Queen of the Night in The Magic Flute with Opera Roanoke, highlights from The Merry Widow with the Concert Artist Series of Sarasota, and performing in concert with the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. She spent two summers at Glimmerglass Opera, where Opera News praised her performance as Laurie in Aaron Copland’s The Tender Landas “radiant… with soaring high notes and an authentic, quivering innocence that was utterly disarming”. Ms. Russell has also performed with Virginia Opera, as an apprentice artist with Santa Fe Opera and with Seattle Opera’s young artist program. She holds a Master of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music and a Bachelor of Music Education degree from James Madison University.

 

 

Caitlin Mathes — Lady with a Cake Box

Mezzo-soprano
Former Portland Opera Resident Artist

Previously at Portland Opera: Meg Page, Falstaff; title role in Rinaldo (2013); Paquette in Candide; A Scribe/ Maria Maddalena in Galileo Galilei...

 

Caitlin Mathes — Lady with a Cake Box

Mezzo-soprano 

Former Portland Opera Resident Artist
Previously at Portland Opera:
Meg Page, Falstaff; title role in Rinaldo (2013); Paquette in Candide; A Scribe/ Maria Maddalena in Galileo Galilei; Kate Pinkerton in Madame Butterfly (2012); Big Night Concert (2011, 2012).


Called “a star on the rise” by Willamette Week, mezzo-soprano Caitlin Mathes is a former Portland Opera Resident Artist who has performed a number of roles with the company. She recently made her Indianapolis Opera debut as Jenny Diver in Kurt Weill’s The Threepenny Opera and sang the role of Vixen “Sharp Ears” in Leoš Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen with Opera Theater Oregon. Other career highlights include originating the role of Dorothy Stang in Angel of the Amazon, winning first place in the Lotte Lenya competition, and performing as a young artist with San Francisco’s Merola Opera Program.

 

 

Melissa Fajardo — Lady with a Hat Box

Mezzo-soprano
Portland Opera Resident Artist

Previously at Portland Opera: Alisa, Lucia di Lammermoor (2014); Page, Salome; Big Night Concert (2013).


Portland Opera’s resident  mezzo-soprano Melissa Fajardo recently graduated  from the Eastman School of Music...

 

Melissa Fajardo — Lady with a Hat Box

Mezzo-soprano
Portland Opera Resident Artist

Previously at Portland Opera: Alisa, Lucia di Lammermoor (2014); Page, Salome; Big Night Concert (2013).


Portland Opera’s resident  mezzo-soprano Melissa Fajardo recently graduated  from the Eastman School of Music with a master’s in vocal performance. She spent the summer of 2013 at Opera Theatre of St. Louis covering the role of Kathy Hagen in Terence Blanchard and Michael Cristofer’s new opera Champion and performing her first musical theater role, Bloody Mary, in Opera North’s South Pacific. Other recent roles include the title role in Benjamin Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia  at Eastman, Rosina in The Barber of Seville and Mere Jeanne in The Dialogues of the Carmelites with Brevard Music Center's Janiec Opera Company. She will sing the role of Kate in Portland Opera’s upcoming production of The Pirates of Penzance in May.

 

 

Ryan MacPherson — Mr. Owen

Tenor

Previously at Portland Opera: Ferrando, Così fan tutte (2010);  Heurtebise, Orphée; Peter Quint / The Master, The Turn of the Screw (2009).


Called “dashing and impetuous” by The New York Times, tenor Ryan MacPherson is a Portland favorite...

 

Ryan MacPherson — Mr. Owen

Tenor

Previously at Portland Opera: Ferrando, Così fan tutte (2010);  Heurtebise, Orphée; Peter Quint / The Master, The Turn of the Screw (2009).


Called “dashing and impetuous” by The New York Times, tenor Ryan MacPherson is a Portland favorite. Earlier this season, Mr. MacPherson sang Jack’s Father in the world premiere of Brokeback Mountain at Teatro Real in Madrid and The Neurologist in Michael Nyman’s The Man who Mistook His Wife for a Hat with Nashville Opera. Other recent career highlights include his debut with Chicago Opera Theater as Roderick Usher in their co-production of Philip Glass’s The Fall of the House of Usher and and performances of Saint-Saëns' La princesse jaune and Gounod's La Colombe with the Buxton Festival..He will return to Portland Opera in May to sing the role of Frederic in The Pirates of Penzance.

 

 

Ian José Ramirez — Man with Old Luggage

Tenor
Portland Opera Resident Artist

Previously at Portland Opera: Arturo, Lucia di Lammermoor (2014); Second Jew, Salome; Big Night Concert (2013). 


The Oregonian recently praised resident tenor Ian José Ramirezfor his “solid” portrayal of Arturo...

 

Ian José Ramirez — Man with Old Luggage

Tenor
Portland Opera Resident Artist

Previously at Portland Opera: Arturo, Lucia di Lammermoor (2014); Second Jew, Salome; Big Night Concert (2013). 


The Oregonian recently praised resident tenor Ian José Ramirezfor his “solid” portrayal of Arturo in Portland Opera’s Lucia di Lammermoor. Mr. Ramirez has performed with Dayton Opera, Indianapolis Opera, and as a studio artist with Opera Saratoga and Central City Opera. He has also studied and performed chamber music with Sir Thomas Allen at the Marlboro Music Festival in Marlboro, Vermont. Mr. Ramirez received both his bachelor’s in music, summa cum laude, and his master’s degree from the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. He will give a solo recital on April 8, 2014, at Whitsell Auditorium.  This summer, Ian will be a member of the Bel Canto Young Artists mentoring program at Caramoor.

 

 

Alexander Elliott — Man with a Shoe Sample Kit

Baritone
Portland Opera Resident Artist

Previously at Portland Opera: Big Night Concert (2013).

Resident baritone Alexander Elliott’s voice has been called “alternately powerful and meltingly gorgeous” and by Oregon Arts Watch.

 

Alexander Elliott — Man with a Shoe Sample Kit

Baritone
Portland Opera Resident Artist

Previously at Portland Opera: Big Night Concert (2013).


Resident baritone Alexander Elliott’s voice has been called “alternately powerful and meltingly gorgeous” and by Oregon Arts Watch. Mr. Elliott recently made his role debut as Count Almaviva in Tulsa Opera’s The Marriage of Figaro. In the summer of 2013, he was an apprentice artist with Central City Opera, where he sang the role of Frank in Ned Rorem’s Our Town, covered a number of mainstage roles, and received the John Moriarty Award for his outstanding contribution to their season. Other career highlights include the Captain in Eugene Onegin and Périchaud in La Rondine with Des Moines Metro Opera. Mr. Elliott will sing the role of Samuel in Portland Opera’s May production of The Pirates of Penzance and will spend the summer of 2014 in San Francisco with the Merola Opera Program.

 

 

Deac Guidi — Man with a Cornet Case

Bass-baritone

Portland Opera Debut 

Making his debut with Portland Opera is bass-baritone Deac Guidi. Mr. Guidi, who The Oregonian called “a strong and focused baritone,” has performed throughout the Pacific Northwest...

 

Deac Guidi — Man with a Cornet Case

Bass-baritone

Portland Opera Debut


Making his debut with Portland Opera is bass-baritone Deac Guidi. Mr. Guidi, who The Oregonian called “a strong and focused baritone,” has performed throughout the Pacific Northwest. Recent career highlights include as the Sergeant of Police in Tacoma Opera’s The Pirates of Penzance and Harastra in The Cunning Little Vixen and The Man in East of Eden with Opera Theater Oregon. Mr. Guidi has performed with Astoria Music Festival since its founding and has performed in Puget Sound Concert Opera productions of Bellini’s I Capuleti e I Montecchi, Umberto Giordano’s Andrea Chénier, and Bellini’s Norma. He has also performed with Opera Pacifica, North Shore Chorale, and the Puget Sound Concert Opera.

 

Videos will be available closer to the performance.

Listen to the Music

Unfortunately we are unable to provide musical excerpts from Postcard From Morocco.

Schedule

Mar 21, 2014
Friday 7:30 pm
Mar 23, 2014
Sunday 2:00 pm
Mar 27, 2014
Thursday 7:30 pm
Mar 29, 2014
Saturday 7:30 pm