opera (2006) 90′, two acts
libretto by Alan Steinberg
based on a story by Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen)
lead roles: soprano, alto (or dramatic mezzo), tenor, bass-baritone
optional solo dancer
secondary roles: 2 tenors, 2 bari-tenors, bass-baritone
chorus, with comprimario roles
full orchestra (winds in pairs, brass in pairs)
published by Sweet Child Music
- commissioned by the Crane Opera Ensemble
- New York State Music Fund production/copying grant, 2006
- American Music Center Composers Assistance Program copying grant, 2006
“…a lovely piece, with a great aria at the end for me.” Stephanie Blythe, Opera News, 10/06
The Sailor-Boy and the Falcon is based on Isak Dinesen’s (Karen Blixen) short story “The Sailor-boy’s Tale” (from Winter’s Tales). The central theme of the story is the coming of age of a teenager, Simon, struggling in the dangerous and unpredictable world of sailors.
In many ways, Dinesen’s short story “The Sailor-Boy’s Tale” displays many characteristics that are typical of numerous opera plots: its colorful characters interact in dramatic situations, offset with moments for introspective arias; the plot unfolds in a mostly naturalistic manner, suddenly upended with magical plot twists; its geographical setting suggests exotic and nationalistic musical references; and there are moments that call for sheer visual spectacle. Yet, it also presented a number of interesting challenges in adapting the story as a libretto for the stage. The biggest challenge was that Dinesen provided little actual dialog in the story; the reader’s imagination is often called upon to flesh out the background context and the character’s motivation for what they say and do. Some of the characters and scenes are rather enigmatic and quirky, and we spent many meetings discussing our differing interpretations of Dinesen’s intentions. Is Simon innocent or ambitious? Is Nora worldly or naive? Is Ivan purposely menacing or unwittingly overbearing? We decided to not explicitly answer these questions for the audience, but instead retain the quirkily enigmatic quality that makes Dinesen’s story so rich and fascinating.
Operas fall into two broad categories: operas which are conceived foremost as dramatic stories, in which the music serves to support the drama; versus operas in which the music is foremost, while the story is mostly a scaffolding which supports engaging music. There are wonderful operas of both types, and of course, there is a middle ground between these perspectives. But our hope is that The Sailor-Boy and the Falcon will be appreciated as a powerful story about the coming of age of a teenager struggling to climb his way upward in an unpredictable and dangerous world.