World premiere of The Picture of Dorian Gray
June 3-5, 2011
To open Longwood Opera's 25th anniversary season and to help celebrate the 300th birthday of the company’s long-time home, the town of Needham, we are proud to present a World Premiere: The Picture of Dorian Gray by Jeffrey Brody and James Saslow. Their engrossing music-drama is based on the infamous Oscar Wilde novel, the tragic tale of an ideally beautiful young man mystically able to remain forever untouched by time, while his portrait ages instead to reflect his increasingly debauched and selfish life. The novel, which caused a scandal in Victorian London, has been adapted for both film and stage, but this is the first version to acknowledge the full range of Dorian’s hedonistic adventures, which in Wilde’s day could only be hinted at in print. This production is the second opera by Longwood’s own acclaimed Music Director: Maestro Brody’s previous comic one-act, The Measure of Love, was a highlight of our 2001 season.
-- A Story Whose Time has Come
Brody has felt a powerful creative urge for many years to set Oscar Wilde’s lurid and decadent 1891 novel to music. He first began to explore the theme with his current librettist in the 1980s, but like so many operatic projects, little progress was made until Longwood became enthusiastically willing to support the composer’s novel and expressive approach to the famous morality tale-plus-ghost story. Brody’s frank treatment of the story’s sexual undertones comes from the realization that the novel was Wilde’s fantasy autobiography: he based the ever-young and ever-beautiful Dorian on his own college-boy lover, Lord Alfred Douglas. Severe British laws against homosexuality in both life and art forced Wilde, who was also married and a father, to give his literary Adonis a female love interest and allude to Dorian’s numerous male amours only in coded symbols and phrases. When Wilde was put on trial for his sexual escapades, the prosecution presented his own writings as evidence of his "deviant tendencies." The plot spotlights Dorian’s temptation by an older, aesthetic gentleman and his long downward spiral into sensuality, blackmail, and murder. It aroused public hostility, even though it casts the anti-hero as a nasty brat and ends with his gruesome but appropriate punishment. Ironically, the story foreshadows Wilde’s own fate: convicted in court, he suffered two years at hard labor before escaping, a broken man, to die in exile at 44.
What Will The Music Be Like?
-- Popular Composer Stretches his Aesthetic Muscles
A long-running fixture on the New England music scene, composer-conductor-pianist Brody is well-known to Longwood audiences and at major venues from Needham to New York. (More details on his wide-ranging career). His typically complex yet moving and often lyrically beautiful score combines his signature loves for lush harmonies and musical symbolism into a stunningly effective whole. Though he has composed many large-scale choral and orchestral works, Dorian is his most ambitious project ever, virtually Wagnerian in its sweep, contrapuntal richness, and expressively sophisticated vocal lines. Brody says, "Iím now writing in a new way," in which scenes of traditional chromatic beauty are spiced with theatrically effective passages that "grow increasingly atonal, paranoid, and weird at crucial moments, such as when Dorian first sees the painting has changed." To bring out all the variety of the score, Longwood has enhanced our usual musical accompaniment by adding an electronic keyboard performer.
How Does a Novel Become an Opera?
--New York Librettist
New Yorker James M. Saslow has worked with Maestro Brody over several decades, providing the text for a cantata commissioned by the Boston Gay Menís Chorus and premiered at New England Conservatoryís Jordan Hall. A former off-off-Broadway actor, cultural journalist, and author, he is a professor of art and theater history at the City University of New York. As a specialist in early modern theatrical design, he has created costumes and backdrops for a New York production of Purcellís opera Dido and Aeneas and wrote and directed a staged adaptation of Castiglioneís Renaissance etiquette guide, Book of the Courtier. His own numerous books include a translation of Michelangeloís poetry and a reconstruction of a famous Renaissance performance, The Medici Wedding of 1589: Florentine Festival as "theatrum mund." Saslow, who also sings basso profondo in a volunteer choir, comments that "as the librettist of Jeffrey's new Dorian Gray, I've been excited to work with him and the creative team under veteran director Scotty Brumit. Longwood has given Jeff and myself a unique opportunity: to dramatize Oscar Wilde's pioneering novel without glossing over the book's most controversial elements. Iím eager to see how the talented young singers tackle such unprecedented roles."
More about Jim Saslow