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Author: Kelly Dean Hansen, Camera Classical Music Writer

DAILY CAMERA: CU opera workshop presents Mark Adamo’s ‘Gospel of Mary Magdalene’

CU opera workshop retools, modernizes original works

(Above: CU NOW rehearses Mark Adamo, Gospel of Mary Magdalene, Leigh Holman, right, and co-director Chelsea Lewis make the most of an intimate stage for CU Opera’s production of “Little Women.” Photo courtesy of Glenn Asakawa, University of Colorado)

When a musical work is premiered, that doesn’t mean its evolution is halted or that the version heard and seen by the audience will automatically be the definitive one, frozen forever in the published score.

Some classical composers, like Gustav Mahler, were notorious for revising their scores after public performances. Sometimes, the realization on stage or in the concert hall does not always match the vision the creator had in mind.

Such is the case with “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene,” the third opera by Mark Adamo. The composer is most known and celebrated for his first operatic masterpiece, “Little Women,” which was staged by the University of Colorado’s opera program in 2013.

It was also in 2013 when “Mary Magdalene” received its high-profile world premiere at the San Francisco Opera, conducted by Michael Christie (who was then in his last year as music director of Boulder’s Colorado Music Festival). As Adamo expected, the critical response was mixed, and despite the sterling performances of his cast and creative team, he says that he knew he wanted to revisit the score.

The CU Eklund Opera Program’s summer new opera workshop, known as CU NOW, offered Adamo an ideal chance to re-imagine the opera. Normally, CU NOW workshops pieces that have been commissioned or are in progress, well before their professional premieres. The works are often unfinished and typically presented partially.

Thus, the presentation of a complete opera — one that has already had a high-profile world premiere — in a new version is exciting new ground for the highly regarded summer program. The workshop version of “The Gospel of Mary Magdalene” will be presented in two performances at the Imig Music Theater June 16 and 18. The production is free and open to the public. Adamo serves as stage director.

Adamo said that the major changes to the piece would not be in the libretto — which he wrote based on extensive research involving the canonical New Testament gospels, as well as the gnostic gospels and other sources. Rather, the size of the ensemble and the nature of the staging are the focus.

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