Calendar 2013 will be a record year in San Francisco Opera history, with three—count’em—THREE world premieres of brand new operas happening in a seven month period! Our new work for families, The Secret Garden
, opens in March at Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley, followed smartly by our two new main-stage works, The Gospel of Mary Magdalene
in June and Dolores Claiborne
in September. My job as Director of Music Administration carries with it the privilege (and sometimes the headache) of nudging these commission projects along from initial conception to opening night. So far I’ve been involved with 14 new commissions (not counting the several that never quite made it all the way), and each project has had its unique challenges.
By far the most famous living author I’ve dealt with is Stephen King, whose novel is the basis of Tobias Picker and J.D. McClatchy’s Dolores Claiborne, about a feisty and much-maligned New England woman accused of two separate murders, one of which she actually committed. Kathy Bates starred in the 1995 movie version of this potent drama. Would the famous author of horror and sci-fi classics like Carrie, Cujo, and the Dark Towers series insist on a hands-on approach to crafting this new opera?
(Photo of the DVD Cover of the film adapation starring Kathy Bates and Jennifer Jason Leigh.)
When he granted us the rights to use his book, he retained his right to the operatic equivalent of “script approval.” My worry was that he could endlessly delay the project with constant demands for re-writes. What if he hated the first draft of the libretto, and told us to start over?
We knew that the screenplay for the movie by Tony Gilroy took huge liberties with King’s novel, and Picker and McClatchy’s plan was to stick much closer to the original. When I first read McClatchy’s libretto, I was filled with admiration for what he had accomplished. I could actually hear these words coming out of the mouths of singers. My ears could sense the powerful sound of the great mezzo Dolora Zajick delivering these lines. Still, when I finally sent the libretto to King’s agent to get his reaction, I was braced for the worst. What I actually got was...silence! The thirty-day window for him to react came and went, meaning that he had acquiesced. The libretto was approved by default. But still, I couldn’t really rest easy. Had he just ignored us? Or did he forget? Would he come back to haunt us later?
(Members of the cast and creative team. From left: Tobias Picker, Dolora Zajick, J.D. McClatchy, Elizabeth Futral, David Gockley, Susannah Biller, and James Robinson. Photo Credit: Scott Wall.)
Fortunately I was eventually assured, unofficially, that Mr. King was actually quite satisfied with the libretto. Whew! Will he come to see the opera? At this point, nobody knows. But we all certainly hope he does, and we know he’ll be pleased with this impressive operatic treatment of his gripping story.