Past Shows

Paul’s Case

Artist’s Praise

A taut, splendid operatic adaptation...economical poetry... ravishing music.
— Steve Smith, The New York Times

Refreshing and thrilling to the ear.
— George Grella, New York Classical Review

A compact, alluring, and attractively obsessive work that bangs around claustrophobically inside Paul’s mind.
— Justin Davidson, New York Magazine

A haunting look at an enigmatic high school student on the cusp of maturity.
— Christopher Ludgate, Passport Magazine

Holden Caulfield’s got nothin’ on the titular art-loving high schooler.
— Jenna Scherer, Time Out New York

Paul’s Case holds an intrigue that demands a second and even third viewing.
— Daniele Sahr, Seen and Heard International

A taut, hallucinatory drama.
— Heidi Waleson, Wall Street Journal

A powerful and stirring experience.

Relentless and unapologetic beauty.
— Brian Rosen, Music vs. Theater

I went somewhere into my own heart with Gregory Spears' beautiful and intimate Paul’s Case... After seeing this incredible work, frankly I did not want to move.
— Wade Davis, Operagasm

A perfect marriage of text and music, creating a series of tableau-like scenes, as if Paul’s story is being related through a series of exquisitely posed still photographs.
— James Jorden, The New York Observer

Mr. Blalock misses no vocal, facial or gestural note in his portrayal. We sense his joy as he liberates himself from his drab surroundings and flees to New York. ... Mr. Spears' music deftly underscores the expansion of his spirit.
— Meche Kroop, Voce di Meche

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About the Show

Subsisting in grimy turn-of-the-century Pittsburgh, a misfit high school boy finds an escape. Swept up by dreams of a more glamorous world, his flight and ultimate dissolution are chronicled in the New York premiere of the chamber opera, Paul’s Case. With music that superimposes new and old styles—post-minimal and baroque—composer Gregory Spears and playwright Kathryn Walat’s poignant operatic adaptation of Willa Cather’s short story traces Paul’s voyage from his repressive surroundings to New York City’s lavish Waldorf Astoria Hotel. A timeless story with a gripping climax, Paul’s Case reveals one young man’s destructive blend of defiance and fragility.

A Post-Show Conversation about Indie Opera vs. Large Scale Opera will follow the January 12 show.

Paul’s Case premiered at UrbanArias in Washington DC, and was developed by AOP in part with funds from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts.

AOP    Produced with the support of American Opera Projects

UrbanArias   An UrbanArias production

Location: HERE, 145 6th Avenue, New York, NY 10013.

Composer: Gregory Spears
Librettist: Kathryn Walat and Gregory Spears based on the short story "Paul's Case" by Willa Cather
Conductor: Robert Wood
Director: Kevin Newbury

Performed by:
Jonathan Blalock
Amanda Crider
Keith Phares
Erin Sanzero
Jim Shaffran
Michael Slattery
Melissa Wimbish

Set Design: Tim Mackabee
Costume Design: Amanda Seymour
Light Design: Eric Southern
Stage Manager: Michael Sperber

Keith Chambers (Piano)
American Modern Ensemble

Artist Bio

Gregory Spears writes instrumental and vocal music that blends together stylistic aspects of romanticism, minimalism, and early music. His music has been performed by Houston Grand Opera (HGOco), the American Composers Orchestra, American Opera Projects, Center City Opera Theater, the NOW Ensemble (MATA), Present Music Ensemble, So Percussion, the Sebastian Chamber Players, and the Eighth Blackbird Ensemble. Spears was recently commissioned by poet Tracy K. Smith to write two new songs for the 2011 Rolex Arts Weekend at the New York Public Library and by the JACK Quartet to write a piece based on his experience as composer-in-residence at the Buttonwood Psychiatric Unit in New Jersey. Other commissions have come from OPERA America, Seraphic Fire Vocal Ensemble, the Present Music Ensemble, countertenor Ryland Angel, choreographer Christopher Williams, Houston Grand Opera (HGOco) and the New York Youth Symphony. New Amsterdam Records released his early music-inspired chamber Requiem in 2011. Current projects include a new collaborative dance-opera "Wolf-in-Skins" with choreographer Christopher Williams and an evening-length opera based on Thomas Mallon's novel "Fellow Travelers" written in collaboration with playwright Greg Pierce and director Kevin Newbury. He lives in Brooklyn. 

Kathryn Walat (co-librettist) is a playwright. Her recent play Creation – about music, obsession, and the artistic process – premiered The Theatre @ Boston Court in Pasadena, and was developed at the O’Neill Theatre Center/National Playwrights Conference. Her play Victoria Martin: Math Team Queen was produced at the Women’s Project, and published in Dramatics magazine and in New Playwrights: Best Plays of 2007. Other works include This Is Not Antigone (New Georges’ Germ Project), On the Road: Anthology Project (Actors Theatre of Louisville), Bleeding Kansas (Hangar Theatre; Francesca Primus Citation), Know Dog (Salvage Vanguard Theater), and Johnny Hong Kong (Perishable Theater). She has received commissions from MCC Theater (also Playwrights Coalition member), New Georges (also Affiliated Playwright), Yale Repertory Theatre, and La Jolla Playhouse. Her work has been developed at The Public Theater, Manhattan Theatre Club, Playwrights Horizons, Ars Nova, Voice & Visions, Bay Area Playwrights Festival, The Lark, The Orchard Project, and Sundance Theatre Lab; and published by Playscripts and Samuel French. Walat is a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design, and a recent Affiliated Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. She received her BA from Brown University, and MFA from the Yale School of Drama.

Kevin Newbury is a theatre, opera and film director based in New York City. Recent opera credits include the world premieres of The Gospel According to Mary Magdalene (San Francisco Opera), Oscar (Santa Fe Opera), Doubt (Minnesota Opera), and Paul's Case (Urban Arias, DC). Other recent credits include Anna Bolena (Minnesota Opera), Maria Stuarda (Houston Grand Opera, Minnesota Opera), Die Liebe der Danae (Bard Summerscape), Roberto Devereux (L’Opera de Montreal, Minnesota Opera), Falstaff and the world premiere of Life is a Dream (Santa Fe Opera), Galileo Galilei (Portland Opera), Werther (Minnesota Opera), Virginia (Wexford Opera Festival – Winner Irish Times Award for Best Opera Production), La Boheme (Central City Opera), Eugene Onegin (Opera Theatre of St. Louis), El Nino (San Francisco Symphony), Rappahannock County (world premiere; Virginia Arts Festival, National Tour), La Cenerentola (Glimmerglass Opera), Bernstein’s Mass (Carnegie Hall, Kennedy Center; Grammy nomination), Oceanic Verses (world premiere, Kennedy Center, River-to-River, NYC). Recent New York theater credits include Candy and Dorothy (GLAAD Winner: Best Play, Drama Desk Nominee), The Second Tosca, and Kiss and Cry (GLAAD Nominee). Kevin just completed production on his first film, Monsura is Waiting. Upcoming projects include new productions for Bard Summerscape, Chicago Lyric Opera, Barcelona Liceu, Canadian Opera Company, Opera Philadelphia and San Francisco Opera.

Conductor Robert Wood debuted at the San Francisco Opera in 2004 with La traviata, and conducted L’italiana in Algeri there the following season. Mr. Wood was Conductor in Residence at the Minnesota Opera from 2006-2008, leading productions of L’italiana in Algeri, Le nozze di Figaro, La donna del lago, Rusalka, and Il barbiere di Siviglia. Mr. Wood also conducted Stephanie Blythe and Lawrence Brownlee in concert at San Francisco Opera, and 2011’s Schwabacher Scenes Program with the Merola Opera Program. Mr. Wood recently conducted Roméo et Juliette at Opera Colorado and Die Fledermaus at Hawaii Opera Theatre. He has also conducted L’italiana in Algeri at Vancouver Opera, Die Entführung aus dem Serail for Hawaii Opera Theater, The Love for Three Oranges at Indiana University Opera Theater, La cenerentola at Opera New Jersey, Lakmé at Minnesota Opera, The Nutcracker for San Francisco Ballet, and Le Comte Ory and Die Zauberflöte at Wolf Trap Opera. Mr. Wood’s upcoming engagements include Carmen at Opera Colorado. Mr. Wood held the position of Chorus Master at The Santa Fe opera from 2001 to 2004, receiving critical acclaim for the choral contribution to the world premiere of Bright Sheng’s Madame Mao, and the American premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s L’amour de loin.

Artist Statement

In Willa Cather’s remarkable story Paul’s Case an enigmatic high school student, on the cusp of maturity with no productive outlet for his artistic energies, cultivates the image of a dandy in response to his middle-class Pittsburgh surroundings. In our operatic adaption, we tried to create an overarching mood that is reflective and expansive, as if the story were being retold in memoriam using Paul’s favorite art forms: music and theater. With recent media accounts of bullying and teenage suicide in the news, we feel that Cather’s tale of a young outcast seems more relevant than ever. It is our hope that the words and music do justice to the story by creating a strong character who reminds us of our own struggle to cope with what Cather calls “the homilies by which the world is run.”

Paul’s music superimposes new and old styles - post-minimal and baroque - in order to explore the defiant and fragile sides of his personality. As a result, many of his vocal lines consist of small melodic fragments repeated with slightly different dramatic accents, illustrating both the lockstep industrial world of early 20thcentury Pittsburgh and the doggedness of the tale’s protagonist. In contrast, Paul's teachers often sing in train-whistle-like harmony foreshadowing both Paul’s escape to New York and the opera's tragic denouement. Much of the accompanying music in the chamber orchestra is also designed to evoke train-like sounds.

Gregory Spears and Kathryn Walat