Author: Jessie Bauters

Pulitzer Prize-winning alumnus returns to CU-Boulder

CU alumnus Mark Campbell returns to Boulder to work with students this summer at CU NOW.

When the sixth season of the CU New Opera Workshop (CU NOW) kicks off this summer, it will mark the return of alumnus Mark Campbell since he graduated in 1975 from the CU-Boulder Department of Theatre and Dance. Campbell’s best-known work is the libretto for the two-act opera “Silent Night,” which garnered the 2012 Pulitzer in Music for composer Kevin Puts. Currently, Campbell is preparing for what will likely be his next triumph with Puts: the world premiere of the Minnesota Opera-commissioned “The Manchurian Candidate,” based on the novel by Richard Condon.

Beginning with rehearsals on May 26 and culminating with public performances on June 12-14, Campbell and composer Zach Redler will work with CU voice and composition students on their new opera “A Song for Susan Smith,” based on the 1994 case of a South Carolina mother who drowned her sons.

“The public response to the tragedy felt instantly operatic to me,” Campbell says. “But it was only as I kept reading about [Susan Smith] that I began to feel sympathy for her – and you can’t write about anyone unless you feel some level of sympathy for them, even the most villainous characters.”

Campbell is committed to elevating the status of new operatic works: since 2002, he’s been commissioned to write 14 operas by some of the top companies in the United States, and he’s mentored young writers with American Opera Projects, the American Opera Initiative and the American Lyric Theatre.

“CU NOW is gaining a national reputation for creating new works,” Campbell says. “Too many music schools and conservatories don’t train musicians in opera. And many universities with excellent theatre programs ignore the highly specialized craft of libretto-writing.

“Programs like CU NOW train our future composers and librettists how to tell stories through music and text. By creating new operas about the American experience, CU NOW helps ensure that opera remains relevant.”

Adds Leigh Holman, Director of the CU-Boulder College of Music’s Eklund Opera Program and Co-Artistic Director – along with Department Chair Patrick Mason – of CU NOW: “We don’t think twice about telling new stories through films and plays. Why should opera be any different?”

As such, Campbell and Redler will also work with the CU NOW Composer Fellows’ Initiative, an extension of the three-week workshop in which five student composers will each write a scene to be rehearsed and performed by students. “At the end of all the performances, the audience will be invited to weigh in with their reactions and responses,” says Holman. “Audience feedback helps the students learn and improve.”

For more information about the students and the professionals involved, visit CU NOW.

“A Song for Susan Smith”
Zach Redler, Composer
Mark Campbell, Librettist
Leigh Holman, Stage Director
Christina Lalog Seal, Music director
Where: ATLAS Center, Black Box Theatre, 1125-18th St., Boulder
When: Friday, June 12 and Sunday, June 14
Time: June 12 at 7:30 p.m. and June 14 at 2 p.m.
Tickets: FREE

Composer Fellows’ Opera Showcase
Bud Coleman, Stage Director
Robert Spillman, Music Director
Where: Imig Music Building, Music Theatre (N1B95), 1020-18th St., Boulder
When: Saturday, June 13
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Tickets: FREE
Note: This production contains sexually suggestive content.

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