Past Shows

Fellow Travelers

Artist’s Praise

Fellow the most romantic new opera I have seen in years. It’s also one of the most successfully political.
— Corinna da Fonseca Wollheim, The New York Times

... a poignant and moving meditation.... "Fellow Travelers" is one of the most accomplished new American operas I have encountered in recent years.
— John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

By tapping a vein of abundant, heartrending sentiment, the creators have created a gay La Bohème... Fellow Travelers' delicacy came through in full, and so did its emotional wallop.
— Fred Cohn , Opera News

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About the Show

New York Premiere
January 12 & 13 at 8pm and January 13 & 14 at 2pm

At Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice

At the height of the McCarthy era in 1950s Washington, D.C., recent college grad Timothy Laughlin is eager to join the crusade against Communism. A chance encounter with handsome State Department official Hawkins Fuller leads to Tim’s first job, an illicit love affair with a man, and an entanglement that will end in a stunning act of betrayal. Based on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel, Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce's Fellow Travelers is an extraordinary personal journey through the intriguing, gut-wrenching world of the 1950s American witch-hunts, and the often overlooked “Lavender Scare.” Directed by Kevin Newbury and featuring the American Composers Orchestra in the opera's New York debut, this acclaimed Cincinnati Opera production pairs American Minimalism with troubadour-like melodies, reflecting the tension between two men’s professional, public lives and their private, forbidden longings. 

Composer Gregory Spears
Librettist Greg Pierce
Director Kevin Newbury
Conductor George Manahan
Executive Producer G. Sterling Zinsmeyer

With American Composers Orchestra 

Based on the 2007 novel Fellow Travelers by Thomas Mallon

Scenic Designer Vita Tzykun
Lighting Designer Thomas C. Hase
Costume Designer Paul Carey
Hair and Makeup Anne Ford-Coates
Assistant Director Marcus Shields

Timothy Laughlin Aaron Blake
Hawkins Fuller Joseph Lattanzi
Mary Johnson Devon Guthrie
Senator Potter & Bartender Vernon Hartman
Estonian Frank, Interrogator, & Sen. McCarthy Marcus DeLoach
Potter’s Assistant, Bookseller, & Priest Christian Pursell
Tommy McIntyre Paul Scholten
Miss Lightfoot Alexandra Schoeny
Lucy Cecilia Violetta Lopez

Additional Credits
General Manager Amanda Cooper
Production Manager Carly Levin
Production Stage Manager Constance Dubinski Grubbs
Assistant Stage Manager Hayley Hunt
Assistant Stage Manager Skye Cone

A Cincinnati Opera Production. Developed and Co-Commissioned by G. Sterling Zinsmeyer and Cincinnati Opera. Co-presented with John Jay College of Criminal Justice and American Composers Orchestra

Fellow Travelers was developed through “Opera Fusion: New Works,” a joint venture between Cincinnati Opera and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, made possible by a grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation; a residency at the MacDowell Colony, Peterborough, NH; and a residency at the Copland House, Cortlandt Manor, NY, as a recipient of the Copland House Residency Award. 

Used by arrangement with European American Music Distributors Company, sole U.S. and Canadian agent for Schott Helicon Music Corporation, New York, publisher and copyright owner.

“JohnJay ACO

Support Fellow Travelers by clicking here.

Show run time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Photo by Philip Groshong

Artist Bio

Gregory Spears (Composer) music work has been called "astonishingly beautiful" (The New York Times), "coolly entrancing" (The New Yorker), and "some of the most beautifully unsettling music to appear in recent memory" (The Boston Globe). In recent seasons, he has been commissioned by The Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Cincinnati Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Seraphic Fire, The Crossing, and the JACK Quartet among others. Spears' most recent evening length opera, Fellow Travelers, was written with playwright Greg Pierce and premiered in 2016 at Cincinnati Opera in a ten-performance run. It was hailed as "one of the most accomplished new operas I have seen in recent years" (Chicago Tribune) and an opera that "seems assured of lasting appeal" (The New York Times). The premiere of Fellow Travelers was also included in The New York Times' Best in Classical Music for 2016. Spears' children's opera Jason and the Argonauts, written with Kathryn Walat, also premiered in the summer of 2016 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and was subsequently performed on tour the following fall. His opera about space exploration, O Columbia, was written in collaboration with Royce Vavrek and premiered in 2015 at Houston Grand Opera. Spears and Walat’s first opera, Paul’s Case, was described as a "masterpiece" (New York Observer) and was developed by American Opera Projects. It was premiered by Urban Arias in 2013, restaged at the PROTOTYPE Festival in 2014, and presented in a new production by Pittsburgh Opera. Spears has won prizes from BMI and ASCAP as well as awards and fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Vagn Holmboe Competition. His music is published by Schott Music and Schott PSNY.

Greg Pierce (Librettist) grew up in Shelburne, Vermont. His play Slowgirl was the inaugural play of Lincoln Center's Claire Tow Theater (LCT3). It was subsequently produced by Steppenwolf Theatre and the Geffen Playhouse, among others. His play Her Requiem, a Lincoln Center Theater commission, was also produced by LCT3.  The Landing, a musical written with composer John Kander, premiered at the Vineyard Theatre in NYC. His second musical with Kander, Kid Victory, was co-produced by Signature Theatre in Virginia and the Vineyard Theatre.  The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, co-written with director Stephen Earnhart, based on the novel by Haruki Murakami, premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival, and went on to play the Singapore Arts Festival. The Quarry, with music by Greg's brother Randal Pierce was commissioned and produced by Vermont Stage Company. Greg has received fellowships from the Edward F. Albee Foundation, Yaddo, The Djerassi Institute, the New York Public Library, and the Baryshnikov Arts Center. He currently holds commissions from Second Stage Theatre and Manhattan Theatre Club/Sloan Foundation. His work has been developed with Naked Angels, The New Group, Atlantic Theatre Company, Asia Society, the Rattlestick Theater, and the Public Theater's Under the Radar festival.  He recently wrote a film for Lionsgate.  He has a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild and the WGA.  

Kevin Newbury (Director) is a theatre, opera, and film director based in New York City. Kevin has directed over sixty original productions and his work has been presented by many opera companies, festivals, and symphonies including the Park Avenue Armory, Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Houston Grand Opera, The Santa Fe Opera, Barcelona Liceu, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Minnesota Opera, The San Francisco Symphony, L’Opera de Montreal, The Prototype Festival, Urban Arias (DC), Bard Summerscape, Portland Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Philadelphia Orchestra, Seattle Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Cincinnati Opera, The Virginia Arts Festival, and The Wexford Festival in Ireland, among many others. Kevin is especially committed to developing and directing new work. He has directed over two dozen world premiere operas and plays, many of which were subsequently published or recorded. Recent world premiere highlights include Spears/Pierce’s Fellow Travelers (Cincinnati Opera, New York Times Best of 2016), Todd Almond’s Kansas City Choir Boy (starring Courtney Love, PROTOTYPE/NYC and Boston, LA and Miami), Puts/ Campbell’s The Manchurian Candidate and Cuomo/Shanley’s Doubt (Minnesota Opera), and Lopez/Cruz’s Bel Canto (Lyric Opera of Chicago, broadcast on PBS’ Great Performances and recently nominated for the 2016 International Opera Awards: Best World Premiere). Kevin’s first two short films, Monsura Is Waiting and Stag, have screened at a total of forty film festivals and have each won festival awards. Both of his films are now available online. His third short, Epiphany V, a classical music video, will be released in mid 2017. Other upcoming projects include the world premieres of Bates/Campbell’s The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs (Santa Fe Opera, Fairouz/Hanif’s Bhutto (Pittsburgh Opera and Beth Morrison Projects), and Fellow Travelers (Lyric Opera of Chicago).

G. Sterling Zinsmeyer (Executive Producer and Co-Commissioner) conceived the idea, commissioned, and developed Fellow Travelers into a chamber opera. He spent most of his career in New York City, early on working in classical arts management with Sol Hurok and theater production with producer Saint Subber. This career was interrupted by the AIDS epidemic, in which Mr. Zinsmeyer spent twenty years as a leader in developing special needs residences for persons living with HIV/AIDS. Ten years ago Mr. Zinsmeyer resumed his arts career by developing independent films, serving as Executive Producer on the award-winning film Latter Days; other films include Adam & Steve, The Deception and Young Blue Eyes. Sterling and his husband, Louis Bixenman, reside in Santa Fe, New Mexico along with their three adorable critters: Oliver, Marcus & Tyler.

Thomas Mallon (Author) is an American novelist, essayist, and critic. His novels are renowned for their attention to historical detail and context and for the author’s crisp wit and interest in the “bystanders” to larger historical events. He is the author of nine books of fiction, including Henry and Clara, Two Moons, Dewey Defeats Truman, Aurora 7, Bandbox, Fellow Travelers, Watergate, and most recently, Finale. He has also published nonfiction on plagiarism (Stolen Words), diaries (A Book of One’s Own), letters (Yours Ever) and the Kennedy assassination (Mrs. Paine’s Garage), as well as two volumes of essays (Rockets and Rodeos, and In Fact). He is a former literary editor of Gentleman’s Quarterly, where he wrote the "Doubting Thomas" column in the 1990s, and has contributed frequently to The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review, The Atlantic Monthly, The American Scholar, and other periodicals. He was appointed a member of the National Council on the Humanities in 2002 and served as Deputy Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities from 2005-2006. His honors include Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, the National Book Critics Circle citation for reviewing, and the Vursell prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for distinguished prose style. He was elected as a new member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012.

George Manahan (Music Director) The wide-ranging and versatile George Manahan has had an esteemed career embracing everything from opera to the concert stage, the traditional to the contemporary. He is the Music Director of the American Composer’s Orchestra and the Portland Opera (OR), previously served as Music Director of New York City Opera for fourteen seasons, and has appeared as guest conductor with the Opera Companies of Seattle, Santa Fe, San Francisco, Chicago, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, Opera National du Paris and Teatro de Communale de Bologna and the National, New Jersey, Atlanta, San Francisco, Milwaukee, and Indianapolis Symphonies, and the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra. A recipient of Columbia University’s Ditson Conducting Award, he was honored four times by the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP) for his commitment to 20th-century music during his tenure as Music Director of the Richmond Symphony (VA). Dedicated to the music of our time, he has led premiers of Tobias Picker’s Dolores Claiborne, Charles Wuorinen’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, David Lang’s Modern Painters, Hans Werner Henze’s The English Cat, Terence Blanchard’s Champion, the New York premiere of Richard Danielpour’s Margaret Garner and Emmy Award-winning composer Laura Karpman’s Grammy Award winning Ask Your Mama, a collaboration with soprano Jessye Norman, The Roots, and the orchestra of St. Luke's. Recent Seasons have included appearances at the Santa Fe Opera, Rose Theater at Lincoln Center in a concert performance of Gluck's Alceste featuring Deborah Voigt, the Music Academy of the West, and the Aspen Music Festival. The Live from Lincoln Center broadcast of his New York City Opera production of Madame Butterfly won an Emmy Award. Mr. Manahan's discography includes the Grammy Award nominated recording of Edward Thomas' Desire Under the Elms, with the London Symphony, and Steve Reich's Tehillim on the EMI-Warner Brothers label. He is Director of Orchestral Activities at the Manhattan School of Music as well as frequent guest conductor at the Curtis Institute of Music.

American Composers Orchestra celebrates 40 years as the only orchestra in the world dedicated to the creation, performance, preservation, and promotion of music by American composers. Through concerts at Carnegie Hall and other venues, education programs, New Music Readings, and commissions, ACO champions prominent composers of the past and present as well as today's brightest emerging composers as it builds an audience for the infinite variety of American orchestral music, reflecting geographic, stylistic, gender, and racial diversity. ACO also serves as an incubator of ideas, research, and talent, as a catalyst for growth and change among orchestras, and as an advocate for American composers and their music. 



Artist Statement

Greg Pierce, Librettist

In writing the libretto of Fellow Travelers, my main goal is to tell an authentic love story of two men who are ensnared in the finger-pointing frenzy of the “Lavender Scare” of 1950s Washington, DC.  Most of what we’ve been taught about this era concerns the McCarthy-led persecution of alleged communists in the State Department.  Very little attention has been paid to the untold numbers of gay men and lesbians whose lives were destroyed because of their sexual orientations or even their affiliations with “sexual deviants.”  In his novel Fellow Travelers, Thomas Mallon has created a rich relationship between State Department employee Hawkins Fuller and newcomer Timothy Laughlin.  It is a passionate, surprising, complex love that is ultimately snuffed out by the terror of the Lavender Scare.  Their relationship—like relationships in all great literature—is both singular and universal.  It gives voice to the many silenced same-sex relationships that tried to bloom during this fraught era.

One of the greatest challenges for me as the librettist is to stay truthful to Thomas Mallon’s vision despite that, in terms of form, opera is so radically different from fiction.  Composer Gregory Spears and I agreed on an approach to the libretto that favors natural speech-rhythms over the stylized language of more traditional operas.  That said, certain scenes culminate in arias where characters express themselves in more heightened, poetic language.  My goal is to ensure that even though the language may shift in tone, there is an overall consistency to each character’s speech, as well as a unified sound to the opera’s language as a whole.

Structurally, Thomas Mallon chose to tell his story in many short scenes, which favor various characters’ points of view.  Our team has chosen to tell the story largely through Timothy Laughlin’s eyes, mostly because he is new to this world that allows the audience to learn about its inner-workings as Timothy does.  Also, since we can’t include all the material from the novel, following Timothy’s journey gave us a coherent system for selecting the strongest, most operatic material.

A large part of my job as librettist is to give the audience a taste of what things were like during this unsettling era.  Fellow Travelers illuminates what it’s like to try and pursue your desires at a time when being honest could cost you everything.  It is also part of my job to point out the disturbing truth that in many of today’s workplaces Americans still live in fear that their coworkers will discover who they are.  At heart though, my job is to tell the compelling story of Fellow Travelers, a tremendous journey that is rich in all the “big” emotions that opera does best. 


Gregory Spears, Composer

Opera thrives on stories with rich subtext, where characters cannot fully express themselves in words. Both politicians and gay men and women in Washington DC in the 1950s lived in a world full of coded sensibility - a culture operating under the surface and in counterpoint with the rigid formality of 1950s mores. In our operatic adaption of Thomas Mallon’s novel Fellow Travelers, the world of back room dealings and power plays underpinning DC’s political life becomes a hazy reflection of the romantic relationship between state department employee Hawkins Fuller and a young reporter Timothy Laughlin. In both the fraught political world of the McCarthy Era and the private world of Hawk and Tim, dialogue could only tell part of the story. My goal was to craft a musical language for Fellow Travelers that would foreground the undercurrent of clandestine machinations and forbidden longing churning under the surface of Greg Pierce’s elegant adaptation. 

Particularly in Tim and Hawk’s public interactions, love cannot simply “speak” its name. Music must bridge the gap. In the opening scene, we witness a conversation between both men on a park bench in Dupont Circle. To any 1950s bystander, the conversation would seem unremarkable. To Tim it is a pick-up, filled with all the danger, innuendo and anticipation. For Tim it is also an awakening: love at first sight. I tried to embody both the excitement and the surface ordinariness of the exchange - a subtle tension familiar to any homosexual of the time. From this starting point, I looked for ways to express the innuendo-driven world of Hawk and Tim while maintaining a relatively cool musical surface, reproducing in the other scenes the layered experience of the original park bench meeting. I tried to do this by blending two disparate styles: American minimalism and the courtly, melismatic singing style of medieval troubadours. Throughout the piece, minimalist passages represent the hum of office work - secretaries typing, interns rushing about - and the McCarthy-era political machine, ready to crush. The florid troubadour-like melodies, evocative of courtly longing, represent the fraught and passionate inner life of the lovers. These two styles are often present at the same time, generating the musical tension and driving the opera toward a tragic collision. The other characters find their own voices within this paradoxical musical atmosphere. 

In an era where living “in-the-closet” is becoming increasingly rare, it seems more important than ever to put characters like Tim and Hawk on-stage - not simply as historical victims struggling against oppression, but as ordinary people fighting through life in an era where passionate love and political ambition threatened to destroy one’s world. My hope is that the nuanced machinery of opera might play some small part reminding us of this history, while also preserving in music the sensibility of doubleness that so often defined gay experience in this era.