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Opera Theatre Of Saint Louis World Premiere Explores The World Of Gertrude Stein

Ken Howard

When Opera Theatre of Saint Louis approached Ricky Ian Gordon about writing an opera for mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe, he was thrilled. “Stephanie is sort of a phenomenon. She’s probably the only singer that makes the Met feel too small,” said Gordon to Cityscape host Steve Potter. “It’s very exciting writing for a singer that bears that kind of vocal stature on the stage.  And the minute her name was mentioned to me as someone to write an opera for, I said ‘Gertrude Stein’ because I thought the personality has to match the voice.”

Gordon teamed up with librettist Royce Vavrek to create 27, the second in Opera Theatre of Saint Louis’ New Works, Bold Voices series. The opera receives its world premiere Saturday, June 14.

The title 27 refers to the Paris apartment at 27 rue de Fleurus that Gertrude Stein shared with her longtime partner Alice B. Toklas. The apartment was filled with art and was the scene of legendary salons that the pair hosted. Soprano Elizabeth Futral sings the role of Alice.

“The way that I designed the libretto,” said Vavrek, “it became very apparent that Alice sort of kept the pulse of this show and so the singer who we engaged to sing the role of Alice needed to be very warm and be able to sort of knit this world quite literally in our production to life. And in Elizabeth we have found the most beautiful, warm lady of the stage. She has internalized and invested so much in this performance. Every day we get to see the show, it’s mind bogglingly amazing what she does.”            

Gordon feels that the story of Stein and Toklas has special relevance today. As gay marriage is now vigorously debated, this pair was able to lead an open relationship as wives in the first half of the 20th century. Gordon also believes there is a lesson in the synergy created in their home. “The salon that they hosted,” he said, “was a place where dialogue and community were paramount and where people fed each other off of their own sort of brilliance and stimulation and they excited each other into creating some of the most seminal works of the 20th century.  That means something to me now because sometimes I fear that dialogue and community will disappear and all we’ll have is a world full of people behind a screen entertaining themselves.”

27 is organized into a prologue and 5 acts and is performed without intermission. Blythe and Futral are joined by tenor Theo Lebow, baritone Tobias Greenhalgh and bass-baritone Daniel Brevik who each sing multiple roles of the leading artists and luminaries that frequented the salons. Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Artistic Director James Robinson directs and Michael Christie conducts members of the St. Louis Symphony.

Related Events

Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Presents Ricky Ian Gordon's and Royce Vavrek's "27"
June 14, 17, 15 and 27, 2014
8:00 p.m.
June 29, 2014
7:00 p.m.
Loretto-Hilton Center, 130 Edgar Road (At Big Bend)
(314) 961-0644 Opera Theatre of Saint Louis Website

Cityscape is produced by Mary Edwards and Alex Heuer and sponsored in part by the Missouri Arts Council, the Regional Arts Commission, and the Arts and Education Council of Greater St. Louis.

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