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THE POTATO KING OF BLOCK 72 is an opera loosely based on the true story of George Shima, the first Japanese-American millionaire.

The Latest Update

The Potato King of Block 72 – News and Excerpt 1

Posted on October 1, 2014 by Max Duykers

The creative team met over the summer and we are greatly developing and deepening our project! 

Along with my father, tenor John Duykers, we will be adding a Cambodian-American soprano/actor and a Japanese-American speaking actor.  Together, these three actors will take on different roles throughout the periods of time that the piece will freely navigate, with the endeavor of effecting a message of universality.  The narrative through-line of Togo, the “Potato King”, losing his farm and being interned during WWII will be within the context of additional examples of xenophobia, including treatment of post 9/11 Arab-Americans, the plight of Hispanic-Americans, and other present-day pheonomena.

I have created this short excerpt of the May 2014 Workshop Premiere with Nextet, under the direction of Virko Baley.  Librettist Philip Kan Gotanta we have been expanding our arena. This winter we are planning more workshops with the additional actors and development of the story and its new context.  Stay tuned for more media soon!



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Workshop Reading with UNLV’s Nextet, under the direction of Virko Baley

Posted on July 12, 2014 by Max Duykers

In May, Virko Baley‘s group Nextet, the new music ensemble of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, gave this music-only workshop premiere of The Potato King of Block 72.  We presented about 28 minutes of the full work, which will be about an hour.  We also projected some stills and video for the performance – they are interspersed into this to help tell the story.

Many thanks to Virko, a seasoned composer and conductor, for helping to draw out the embedded expression and visceral depth of the piece.  The experiece of working with him was exteremely beneficial to its development.

There are many exciting aspects to this project and it has been a true labor of love for the past several years.  It has been an honor working with my father, tenor John Duykers on this complex and emotional story, along with our fantastic collaborators: librettist Philip Kan Gotanda, director Melissa Weaver, and performer Joel Davel (who performs on the Marimba Lumina and other unique instruments with the Paul Dresher Ensemble).  It is a joy to see Potato King gradually come to life through several workshops and ensemble readings, and it will be wonderful to soon bring the masterful Paul Dresher Ensemble into the mix!



The Potato King of Block 72

The Potato King of Block 72 is a new experimental  chamber opera created collaboratively by emerging composer Max Giteck Duykers with First Look Sonoma, a laboratory for artists generating new works and dedicated to creating partnerships to present them at venues around the country.  FLS co-directors include Max’s father, tenor John Duykers and director Melissa Weaver, in partnership with the Paul Dresher Ensemble, all veterans of the new music scene in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Acclaimed Japanese-American playwright Philip Kan Gotanda will write a libretto inspired by the extraordinary true story of George Shima.  Known as the “Potato King,”  Shima was the first Japanese immigrant to become a millionaire as he built an agricultural empire growing potatoes in California’s Central Valley in the 1920’s.  We meet the fictionalized ‘Togo’ as he receives a letter and his story is gradually revealed: at the height of his empire during World War II, his son joins the American military to prove his patriotism. Togo comes to realize that his American Dream has vanished as he is forced off his land and incarcerated in an internment camp. The letter reveals his son has died fighting for America. Togo is a colorful, larger-than-life character, driven by an unraveling interior life that moves freely through time and space, allowing the narrative to live in the historical and contemporary.

John Duykers’ tenor is liquid and warm, unique with a huge range and dynamic expression. Members of the Paul Dresher Ensemble will take on non-speaking character roles to foil Duykers’ powerful stage presence. The opera features actor-percussionist Joel Davel performing on two interactive and innovative electronic instruments: the “Marimba Lumina” and “Lightning”. Composed for tenor Duykers, Davel, and the Paul Dresher Ensemble, and using atonal and tonal influences alike, Max Giteck Duykers’ music will meld sampled acoustic sounds with live acoustic ones of the same families, giving the feeling of a hyper-real scene. The score will portray the tragedy and strength of the human spirit with expansive grandiosity and effervescent harmonic undulations that progress violently toward powerful cadences and fleeting moments of joy and light.

To embody the dark irony of his trajectory, Togo’s dreams and memories will be evoked with abstract and vibrant projected imagery, and with a versatile scenic design by veteran designer Kate Edmunds. Director Weaver will make inventive and efficient use of the visual design and portable lighting to instantly transform the performance environment.

The Potato King of Block 72-A will be a 21st century opera about America, the immigrant, the land, and the love of a father for his son. The creative team will eschew the politically correct social realism model used for “ethnic” American stories and embrace all aspects of 21st century new opera, new music and new theater. The goal is to construct a uniquely personal form of performance that can both investigate the institutionalized vocabulary of race and immigration while embodying them with the most current evolving artistic processes.


Project Media

Pond/Baby Excerpt from “Apricots of Andujar”
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“Apricots of Andujar” is a song cycle for tenor, Marimba Lumina/Lightning, and pierrot sextet. It was commissioned by the Jerome Fund Composers Commissioning Program in 2010. It was premiered by John Duykers, Joel Davel, and Birds on a Wire at Western Michigan University under the direction of David Colson. Philip Gotanda created the libretto and Melissa Weaver directed.

Apricots of Andujar is similar in form to Potato King, although Potato King will be fully staged and greatly expanded to about 1 hour.

The Table Where We Met – collage of scenes
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Features: Max Duykers

The “Table Where We Met” is an even-length score for dance commissioned by Ironworks on the Edge with whom I am the composer in residence. Ironworks is a dance and dance-documentary production company. Table features Esther Noh on solo violin performing with processed string quartet samples of the string quartet Praxis. The samples were molded into unusual grooves and ambient effects.

This piece shows my approach to melding electronic and acoustic timbres into a unique sound world, a technique which will be used heavily in Potato King.

Excerpts from “The Tyrant” – Paul Dresher Ensemble with John Duykers
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Inspired by the writings of Italo Calvino, Paul Dresher’s” The Tyrant” is a solo chamber opera written for tenor and long-time collaborator John Duykers. It depicts the claustrophobic world of a despot who is so afraid of being overthrown that he refuses to leave his throne.

The Tyrant is similar in format and scope to Potato King and includes our collaborators The Paul Dresher Ensemble performing.

Start and End Dates



San Francisco, California

2 updates
Last update on October 1, 2014

Project Created By

Brooklyn, New York
Max Giteck Duykers is a composer whose work is dedicated to unusual beauty, unique forms, and collaborative projects.  He frequently incorporates technology in performance in a manner which gives the performers room for individual expression. A veteran of multidisciplinary performance, Duykers is also interested in reworking developmental processes for artists to find their collective “sweet…

In Collaboration With

San Francisco, California
Sebastopol, California
Berkeley, California


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