Inspired by the Poe centennial in 2009, American Lyric Theater asked: “What might Poe write if he were alive today?” Composers Patrick Soluri and Jeff Myers, and librettists Deborah Brevoort and Quincy Long, alumni of the company’s Composer Librettist Development Program, were commissioned to write a one-act opera in response. The results are Buried Alive and Embedded, written for an orchestra of 16 players, and 6 singers who take on different roles in each opera. Though each work has been inspired by Poe’s fiction, the writers have created distinctly contemporary horror stories informed by the spirit of the great American literary master. Buried Alive (Myers/Long) draws on themes of anxiety and mortality from Poe’s story “The Premature Burial,” as a painter’s nightmares of death start to become real. Embedded (Soluri/Brevoort) is wittily inspired by Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado,” as a TV news anchor finds herself on the other side of the headlines.
After four years of gestation and thoughtful development, the works spring to life in a co-production between three vibrant organizations: American Lyric Theater, Fargo-Moorhead Opera (FMO) and Fort Worth Opera (FWO). The collaboration between ALT, FMO and FWO takes advantage of the complementary resources and missions of each organization. By joining together, ALT, FMO and FWO not only reduce the costs of creating a first-class production, but also ensure that the operas have a future after their first performances in North Dakota.
The world premiere of The Poe Project took place from March 28-30, 2014 in Fargo, ND. In presenting this work, FMO, the only professional opera company between Minneapolis and Billings going east and west; and Omaha and Winnipeg going north and south, presented the first world premieres in the company’s 45 year history! The production garnered press coverage from local news station WDAY TV Channel 6, a print and online new source for the Fargo-Moorhead region called InForum, and Minnesota Public Radio. Buried Alive was directed by Lawrence Edelson, producing artistic director of ALT. Embedded was directed by Sam Helfrich, whose recent work includes productions for Glimmerglass Festival, and the Spoleto Festival/USA. Kostis Protopapas, who serves as the Artistic Director of Tulsa Opera, conducted an exceptional cast, which included soprano Caroline Worra, soprano Sara Gartland, mezzo soprano Jennifer Feinstein, tenor Jonathan Blalock, baritone Christopher Burchett and bass Nathan Stark.
The production team is comprised of three of the most innovative and in-demand theatrical designers in the country. Zane Pihlstrom, who has designed productions for Beth Morrison Projects, designed the sets and costumes. S. Katy Tucker, who recently wrapped a production with The Metropolitan Opera, created video and projections for both operas. Josh Epstein, whose credits include Mark Taper Forum, and the Minnesota Opera, served as the lighting designer.
Funds from New Music USA will be used to help ALT underwrite the cost of producing performance materials; and will help FMO underwrite the cost of documentation (audio/video recording), as well as composers/librettists travel to Fargo, where they gave in school workshops to student composers and writers.