Robert Butts

Conductor ● Composer ● Educator

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Overnight Opera in Atlanta

It was truly an exciting experience - composing and performing an opera within 24 hours, working with Atlanta Opera!   Well, I guess technically about 27-28 hours all things considered.    

I arrived at the First Presbyterian Church in Atlanta with no real idea what was involved.    Everybody was welcoming and warm.    Randomly I (and the other 4 composers) was teamed with a librettist.    My partner was Ellen Frankel, an excellent and experienced writer.   We meshed immediately.

We were also provided with 2 randomly chosen props.  In our case, we had a bouquet of flowers and an old flat iron.   Ellen mentioned that she'd been interested in creating something related to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire in New York in 1911.  That sounded like a great idea to me.

While Ellen worked on the libretto, I started playing around with some musical ideas, trying to find an idea that would create a possible urban turn-of-the-last-century ambience.   I decided to start with a bluesy/jazzy idea.   

Ellen completed the first draft of the libretto in about an hour or so.   I started looking through the libretto for word phrases I thought could be turned into music motives and themes.   I began with Rosie's opening phrase "What misery" as she pleads for better working conditions and rights for the workers.

The bouquet of flowers inplied a love interest - so Ellen made Max, the factory owner, in love with Rosie the worker and he confesses his love as the factory starts to burn, begging her to escape with him to the roof.    I decided that this would be a good spot for a ballad.

We worked through the night and the opera was completed around 4:30 AM, at which time I decided a nap was in order!

We met with the Director Richard Gammon and Music Director Paul Tate, briefly reviewing the story and the score.

I went back to the hotel to try to catch up on some sleep, but of course one never actually catches up on sleep after such an adventure and there was the excitement of knowing the opera would be performed that evening.   

I went to the Atlanta Opera Center around 5 and was fortunate enough to be in time for the dress rehearsal and to talk with the singers - soprano Annie Burton, mezzo Anne Stillwagon and baritone Stephen McCool.    Delly Fears served as Stage Manager.  

The evening passed by so quickly, it's hard to remember more than the excited feelings.  It was thrilling to hear all five excellent operas and to think that 24 hours earlier, most of us had never met each other and had no idea who we'd work with or what our theme would be.  Then, it all came together in a wonderful evening of music drama.   I hope you enjoy the video of The Triangle,  Video courtesy of Atlanta Opera.  Production  by Stevens Interactive Productions, Inc.