Mini-opera debuts: Silverton composer’s Love Is Strong as Death at Abbey

January 2018 Posted in Community, Music & Band

Screen Shot 2018-01-18 at 9.31.45 AMBy James Day

Silverton composer Christopher Wicks will debut a new mini-opera with a pair of matinee performances next month at the Mount Angel Abbey.

Love Is Strong As Death was inspired by an English folk ballad, The Unquiet Grave. It performs at 2 p.m. Feb. 3 and Feb. 10.

“The action is mostly internal,” Wicks said, “a dream-like meditation on some difficult themes, with a closing impression of great fortitude and hope.”

Two sopranos, Aimee Amend and Alison Seeber, and baritone Bennett Bailey will perform the three-character piece, accompanied by pianist Debra Huddleston.

In the story, Iseult, a mortal woman named for an archetypal lover from Celtic legend, is mourning her dead lover, a warrior named Tristam, and disturbing the peace of his grave. A third character, the Angel, attempts to console Iseult and lead her back to the living.

“There’s a long-range symmetry set up in terms of the opening and closing trios, and the alternation between utterances by Iseult and those by Tristam, with the Angel singing briefly between each one,” Wicks said.

“I wrote much of the text myself (all that isn’t Biblical quotation) and Tristam sings in the fixed form known as sonnet, while Iseult’s words are in the French fixed form known as villanelle.”

Wicks said he previously composed a few operatic “pipe dreams,” but Love Is Strong As Death is the first to make it to the stage.

He composed a one-act opera for full orchestra for his master’s thesis at the University of Montreal and also collaborated with the late Silverton writer Marilyn Hall on another opera. The university piece has not been performed and only an unstaged recording of the final duet of the Hall collaboration was made.

Wicks also has composed two lengthy song cycles, one on the poems of St. Theresa of Lisieux (1873-1897) and another on the poetry of Sappho, who wrote in the sixth century B.C.

Both pieces, Wicks said, have been performed and recorded more widely “but they may not qualify as operas.”

When asked about the challenges in composing the new opera Wicks said “I think a perennial challenge which I face, and many other composers and writers also, is the necessity of so much self-application to bridge the gap between beautiful-seeming but somewhat vague notions of what I would like my work to be, and having marks on the page or minutes of music recorded which manifest those notions in a concrete and specific form.

“That said, this piece flowed fairly easily once I stuck my head down and got
to work.”

Wick said some people “seem surprised that I think it’s possible to have a serious career as a classical composer with Silverton as your home base.”

But in this age of instant global communication Wicks has had compositions performed in South Korea and all over Europe as well as published both internationally and domestically.

“I have roots in Silverton, and the internet is very helpful for persons who want to have long-distance careers,” he said.

“I just want to keep making the best music I can ‘while it is still day,’ and I feel that this place is as good for it as many places.”

Love Is Strong As Death has a running time of approximately 30 minutes. The concert will open with two of Wicks’ violin sonatas featuring Stephanie Barth, concertmaster of the Salem Philharmonia, on violin with Wicks at the piano.

The public is welcome at all performances. No tickets are required, however, free will offerings will be accepted.

Banquet – “Bringing the Community

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