With serendipitous timing, two Blair alumni are making their marks on the Boston opera scene this year. Heidi Lauren Duke, BMus’01, directed a new production of Verdi’s Falstaff, set in 1970s New York, in July. And in October, Boston Metro Opera will present Angel of the Amazon, composed and written by Evan Mack, BMus’03.
Mack’s opera, his first, had its world premiere with the Encompass New Opera Theatre in New York City in May.
“It was a phenomenal experience,” Mack says, still energized by the event. “The New York Daily News called it ‘amazing.’ There were 13 performances, which is very rare for a brand new opera.”
A highlight for Mack was sharing the show with guests from Blair’s faculty, including mentors Michael Slayton, associate professor of composition and theory; Stan Link, associate professor of the philosophy and analysis of music; and former classmate-turned-faculty-member Joshua McGuire, senior lecturer in aural skills.
Mack is a prolific composer, pianist and teacher, and his recitals increasingly include his own pieces. Already this year, in addition to his opera, he has premiered a children’s ballet version of Pinocchio and a choir piece, “Of Fire and Form.” In March, just after Pinocchio was staged, he read a story to his son about John Henry. Within three weeks he had a new ballet written.
Mack wrote Angel of the Amazon after chance led him to a lecture about Dorothy Stang, an American nun who dedicated her life to working with Brazilian peasants, and who was murdered by gunmen at the age of 73. Deeply inspired by her story, Mack went from concept to staging in just five years—a speedy journey in the world of opera.
See video from a rehearsal of Angel of the Amazon.
Duke, who majored in theater and music, has turned her career toward directing, with a focus on opera. She credits Gayle Shay, associate professor of voice and director of Vanderbilt Opera Theatre, with encouraging her as she discovered her passion for the form.
Duke relishes opportunities to work on new productions that allow her to “build from the ground up.” The Boston Opera Collaborative’s Falstaff re-imagines Verdi’s comedy with mafia dons, discotheques and ’70s-era decadence as its backdrop. In August, Duke followed that show with a new production of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale at Hubbard Hall Opera Theater in upstate New York.
Like Mack, Duke draws inspiration from the storytelling power of music.
Last summer, in Barcelona, she premiered Lorca en Nueva York, an original music theater piece in which she weaves together Andalusian folk songs, new music by Spanish composer Anthony Ocaña, and poetry by Federico García Lorca, written during his stay in New York City at the start of the Great Depression.
“It tells the story of a 24-hour cycle, a day in the life of modern New York, from Lorca’s point of view,” says Duke, who was struck by the poetry’s relevance to the city she inhabits today.
“It was my first time making theater for an audience that doesn’t speak the same language as me,” Duke says. “But if an artist has a certain technique and confidence in what she can do, it doesn’t matter where the piece is from. Good directors will transcend cultural boundaries because they understand stories.”