S U P E R M A X
A 1999 article in The New York Times was the initial inspiration. It described a maximum security prison in Florence, Colorado where these four inmates were held in solitary:
Ted Kaczynski (Bass), the Unabomber
Timothy McVeigh (Tenor), the Oklahoma City Bomber
Ramzi Yousef (Countertenor), the first and unsuccessful World Trade Center Bomber Luis Felipe (Baritone), Head of the Latin Kings Gang,”the only one who didn’t bomb!”
For one hour all four are taken together into the prison yard, put into adjoining chain link cages and allowed to communicate, the only human contact of their day. The New York Times called it “the oddest coffee klatsch in the history of Western Civilization.” That hour is our opera. And it is exactly one hour. When the hour is up, the opera is over no matter where in the score.
The urgency of that initial impulse provides an essentially musical frame bound by time and chock full of emotion, rage and betrayal – the perfect vehicle for singing.
Each inmate is driven by a different ideology but united in the belief that their cause is just. These challenges have not gone away: the threat of technology and the worldwide rise of jihadism and religious fanaticism, including a distinctly American variety. Even the Militia movement is now resurgent, rebranded the alt-right. Gang violence is everywhere. Who’s winning?
S U P E R M A X premieres at Opera Saratoga in June 2021 with longtime collaborator Christopher Alden directing and Daniela Candillari conducting. The libretto is by Mark Campbell and Michael Korie. The four singers are accompanied by an amplified ensemble of 13 players.
S U P E R M A X represents a return to my roots. My first opera Where’s Dick? was a comic book indictment of the Reagan years. It was based on song form and vaudeville with elements of show biz razzmatazz. Blackly comic, its characters were invented cartoon criminals who resonated with the criminals of the time.
Now the criminals singing are real.
Throughout my work, I’ve been interested in what it means to be American, our polyglot roots, and our weird political culture. My operas, Harvey Milk and The Bonesetter’s Daughter among them, share a perhaps naive sense that art can change the world.
Commissioned by the San Francisco Opera, Stewart Wallace’s collaboration with Amy Tan included extensive travel in China studying various regional forms of Chinese opera, attending funerals in small villages of Shanxi Province and exploring the music of the ethnic minorities in the mountains of Guizhou. Chronicle Books published Fate!Luck! Chance! Amy Tan, Stewart Wallace and The Making of The Bonesetter’s Daughter. A documentary about the opera premiered nationally on PBS.
HARVEY MILK, Wallace’s most widely known score commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera, San Francisco Opera and New York City Opera, was a cultural phenomenon discussed and debated in every major American and European newspaper, Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair and CNN. Twenty five years later HARVEY MILK returns with two new productions one year apart: San Francisco in 2020 and Saint Louis in 2021. Stewart Wallace has rewritten and radically reimagined the score with an emphasis on its mythic elements. This is a new HARVEY MILK.
S U P E R M A X premieres at Opera Saratoga in June 2021 with a libretto by Mark Campbell and Michael Korie, directed by Christopher Alden. The one opera takes place at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. Portrayed are Ted Kaczynski (Unabomber), Timothy McVeigh (Oklahoma City Bomber), Ramzi Yousef (World Trade Center bomber), and Luis Felipe (Latin Kings leader). For one hour they are put into adjoining chain link cages in the prison yard and allowed to communicate. That hour is our opera. This is a MIDI version with all caveats!
Start and End Dates
06/01/2020 — 07/31/2021
New York, New York