Minnesota Opera announces its commission of “Dinner at Eight”


At its annual meeting today, Minnesota Opera announced its commission of Dinner at Eight, a new comic opera by composer William Bolcom and librettist Mark Campbell, based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber. Minnesota Opera will give the world premiere during its 2016-2017 season at Ordway Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Dinner at Eight is a Depression-era comedy of manners in which the wife of a once-affluent shipping magnate plans a society dinner for an assortment of wealthy or well-born acquaintances. Eventually, the guests’ tangled and intimate connections to one another are revealed. The original play opened in 1932 on Broadway at the Music Box Theater, and inspired a star-studded film adaptation the following year. It has enjoyed two Broadway revivals; the opera will be its first musical adaptation.

“It is tremendously gratifying to commission a comic opera, particularly by an American legend like William Bolcom,” said Artistic Director Dale Johnson. “The Great Depression provided fodder for a multitude of artistic masterpieces, and Dinner at Eight by Kaufman and Ferber belongs in that category. The play is an ensemble piece, fast-paced and brilliantly witty, filled with extraordinary characters. These are ideal elements for an opera. Both William Bolcom and Mark Campbell straddle the classical and American popular styles, and I can’t think of a better combination to bring this sparkling comedy, with its rapid-fire dialogue and hilarious situations, to the opera stage.”

William Bolcom, whose music The New York Times described as moving with “a suave assurance that serves comic and dramatic impulses equally well,” said, “What I’ve always loved about the play is its ability to merge humor and emotional depth. The opera will be a high-wire balancing act for both Mark and me – we will need to find just the right tone. In my 50 years of opera and musical theater work, which brought forth three operas for theater and three for opera house, I’ve never felt a stronger challenge in contemplating this fourth opera, and it makes me feel 76 years young!”

Dinner at Eight features marital infidelity, financial ruin, social opportunism, a fatal disease and a suicide. Naturally, it’s a comedy,” said librettist Mark Campbell, who says he is thrilled to be working with Minnesota Opera on this, his fourth commission with the company (Silent Night, The Manchurian Candidate and The Shining are others). “It’s also an incisive exploration into the impact of economically compromised times on the American class system—which is very much a part of the New Works Initiative’s goals in exploring distinctly American themes. With Dinner at Eight, Bill and I intend to fuse the best traditions of musical theater with those of opera to create a contemporary work that brings out both the light and the dark in the brilliant Kaufman/Ferber play.”
 
Minnesota Opera New Works Initiative
The commission of Dinner at Eight continues Minnesota Opera’s New Works Initiative (NWI). A pioneering movement in new opera when it was launched in 2008, the NWI was designed to invigorate the operatic art form with an infusion of contemporary works and formalized Minnesota Opera’s commitment to artistic growth, leadership and innovation. Its first iteration – a seven-season commitment to producing premieres and revivals of new works – funded the commissions of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize-winning Silent Night (Kevin Puts and Mark Campbell), 2013’s Doubt by Douglas J. Cuomo and librettist John Patrick Shanley and the upcoming political thriller, The Manchurian Candidate (also by Puts and Campbell), which will have its premiere in March 2015.

Now in the penultimate year of that first phase, Minnesota Opera has revealed future mainstage commissions of the New Works Initiative, including The Shining by composer Paul Moravec and librettist Mark Campbell, based on the novel by Stephen King (world premiere May 2016), and the co-commission of Cold Mountain by composer Jennifer Higdon and librettist Gene Scheer, based on the novel by Charles Frazier, with The Santa Fe Opera and Opera Philadelphia.
 
About William Bolcom
Named 2007 Composer of the Year by Musical America, and honored with multiple Grammy Awards for his ground-breaking setting of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience, William Bolcom is an artist whose tremendous range of composition covers the gamut of cabaret songs, concertos, sonatas, operas, symphonies, and much more.  He was awarded the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in Music for his Twelve New Etudes for piano and the 2006 National Medal of Arts.
 
About Mark Campbell
Mark Campbell was cited by Opera News as being one of twenty-five artists “poised…to become major forces in opera in the coming decade.” His most known opera is Silent Night, which premiered at Minnesota Opera and garnered the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in Music for composer Kevin Puts. The opera appeared on PBS’ Great Performances last Christmas, was produced in Philadelphia and Ft. Worth and will soon be seen in Cincinnati, Calgary, Montreal, Kansas City and in a new production for Wexford. Other musical works include Volpone, Later the Same Evening, Bastianello/Lucrezia, The Inspector, Rappahannock County, Approaching Ali, Splendora, The Audience, and Songs from an Unmade Bed. While serving as a mentor for American Opera Projects, American Lyric Theatre and Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative, Mark is currently working on several smaller works and two musicals, as well as nine new operas that will premiere in the next three years, including: The Manchurian Candidate (Minnesota Opera; Kevin Puts, composer), As One (Brooklyn Academy of Music/American Opera Projects; Laura Kaminsky, composer), The Shining (Minnesota Opera; Paul Moravec, composer), Burke + Hare (Music-Theatre Group; Julian Grant, composer), Elizabeth Cree (Opera Philadelphia; Kevin Puts, composer) and Dinner at Eight (Minnesota Opera; William Bolcom, composer).