Sunday, January 14, 2018

New Opera Tells a Tragic 1950s Gay Love Story

The New York Times reports:

Based on Thomas Mallon’s 2007 novel of the same title, “Fellow Travelers,” set in Washington, D.C., during the 1950s, at the height of the McCarthy era, tells a tragic story of two young men: Hawkins (Hawk), a State Department employee, and Tim, an idealist from New York. They have a love affair and become ensnared in the “lavender scare,” the hysteria that purged gay employees from the federal government. The librettist Greg Pierce deserves much credit for the dramatic urgency of the opera, which unfolds as a series of short, telling scenes, some of which overlap effectively.

The surprising musical approaches [composer Gregory] Spears often takes to these scenes, and the characters, hooked me right through. In a composer’s note, he describes his musical language as combining two disparate styles: American minimalism and the courtly, melismatic singing of medieval troubadours. Mr. Spears’s evocations of troubadours sometimes sound, intriguingly, like they have come by way of Ravel, or Britten, or Judy Collins. There are hints of neo-Classical Stravinsky, stretches of Baroque-like dance, a red-hot clarinet. Whole stretches of the score are driven by pulsing rhythmic figures and repetitive riffs that envelop Tim and Hawk in scary bliss, or, more menacingly, tap into the hysteria gripping the government.

Mr. Spears takes risks, right from the first tender, complex meeting between the two men. Tim (the appealing, youthful tenor Aaron Blake), just arrived from New York, is sitting on a bench in a park, all eager to work in government. The suave, confident Hawk (Joseph Lattanzi, a mellow-voiced, charismatic baritone), senses something about him, and begins a ritual of seduction.

See full story here.

The opera, Fellow Travelers, had its New York premiere Friday, Jan 12, 2018, and played through Sunday, Jan 14, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice as part of this year’s Prototype Festival. The Prototype Festival runs through Jan. 20 at various locations. For more information, call 212-352-3101, or visit their website at

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