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Beautiful Creatures (a green opera)

Music by Jennifer Griffith ~ “Beautiful Creatures” Aria (Sarah Craft Nelson, Mezzo soprano)

Libretto by Dominic Orlando

What’s the opera about?

Eileen is an inveterate executive of an environmental organization who is struggling to find the reins of her mission in the green movement with all its recent changes. Her fantasies and anxieties play out during an afterparty at a green conference where the competing strategies and motivations of 3 other characters within the movement (a film star, an eco-terrorist, and a green-washed corporate) threaten to take them all down. More broadly, the opera is about the loss of ideals and how we reconcile our best hopes with sobering realities.

A History of the Opera

I needed an idea for a proposed opera for a small London opera company in November, 2007. I was at the MacDowell Colony when I received the email, having arrived only the day before. I looked around the room and asked if anyone was a writer, and two people responded, one of them the playwright Dominic Orlando. I told him the parameters of the proposal and added that the piece would be programmed with two others—Bernstein’s Trouble in Tahiti and Barber’s A Hand of Bridge, both of which I identified (loosely) as suburban anxiety dramas. “I’ll give you some urban anxiety,” Dominic said. I was intrigued.

He sent me the idea a few days later. The story was set at a party—with a bar, incidentally, similar to the Halloween party we had a few nights later at the Colony—and he called it The Gin Game, with the requisite four characters the London company wanted—two men, two women—laid out as a US State Department Flunky, an Eco-Terrorist, a Hollywood Star, and a Hedge Funder. I sent the proposal to London and never heard back. But I liked the idea very much because it speaks to my activist self, growing up in Oregon concerned with environmental issues. So, early in 2008, I asked Dominic to write it up. The baritone and producer Michael Zegarski liked the project too, and soon got involved. After rounding up actors with his partner Patrick Porter, they hosted several readings as Dominic and I developed the libretto. People came out of the woodwork to help, folks from American Opera Projects, singers, directors and actors, all offering their services, feedback and encouragement. Last summer, a filmmaker got interested and began making a documentary about Beautiful Creatures, “the making of a green opera” from grassroots up.

Beautiful Creatures is about the politics and people in the environmental movement. More broadly, the opera is about the loss of ideals and how we reconcile our best hopes with sobering realities. The non-profit, StageTime Collaborative (STC), after developing the libretto in several readings (the last in December, 2009) produced a music reading of the first half in July, 2010. I composed the second half for a full reading in March, 2011 and the staged reading in November, 2011, directed by Alden. Over the summer of 2011, Alden, Orlando and I workshopped for 3 days overhauling the libretto. STC has devoted countless hours developing this opera, and they’re now pitching the opera to festival producers in Europe and America for full production. I plan to orchestrate for fuller ensemble, not quite sure which instrumentation yet. Maybe a huge force with 85-piece orchestra, rock band, reggae singer, and jazz trio (+ soprano, mezzo soprano, tenor, baritone, and quartet/coro – SATB). Would love to find a dramatic lyric soprano to play Eileen. Or maybe something smaller–a few winds, brass, string 4tet, elec guitar, and jazz trio.