Opera Theater of Pittsburgh to Perform ‘Shining Brow’ at Fallingwater
Opera Theater of Pittsburgh will perform “Shining Brow,” the American opera with music by Daron Hagen and libretto by Paul Muldoon on Fallingwater’s famous exterior terraces, Friday and Saturday, June 7 and 8 – the weekend of Frank Lloyd Wright’s 146th birthday.
This is the first time the iconic piece of architecture in Western Pennsylvania will have ever hosted an opera.
Opera Theater’s Artistic Director Jonathan Eaton directs this production about Fallingwater’s creator and arguably America’s most famous architect and uses the house as its set. The piece captures the 11 most tumultuous years of Frank Lloyd Wright’s life.
“Live performances at Wright’s 1935 design are rare, but this is a fitting event,” said Lynda Waggoner, vice president of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and director of Fallingwater. “The house is the quintessential example of architecture melding with nature, so it’s a great setting for an exercise of live performance coalescing with architecture.”
Opera Theater singers and musicians will perform the opera on Fallingwater’s exterior terraces as an audience views from seating areas on a path and a bridge. The company will access the performance spaces through the house.
“Shining Brow” explores Wright’s relationships with his wife, Catherine (Kara Cornell); his mistress Mamah Cheney (Lara Lynn Cottrill); Mamah’s husband and Wright’s client, Edwin Cheney (Dimitrie Lazich); and his mentor, Louis Sullivan (James Flora). The role of Frank Lloyd Wright is sung by Kevin Kees.
The story jumps from 1903 to 1914 and from Chicago to Spring Green, Wis. – where Wright’s studio and home, Taliesin, were located – and to Berlin. During this time, Wright had a controversial relationship with Mamah, the wife of a client; the affair ended with her brutal murder in August 1914. She, her two children and four others died when a servant at Taliesin attacked them with an axe and set fire to the house.
“I couldn’t imagine a more unique artistic experience – this marvelous opera about Frank Lloyd Wright’s dramatic personal life staged on the terraces of his Fallingwater,” Eaton said. “This must surely be a once-in-a-lifetime sort of event.”
The opera focuses on Wright’s introduction to Edwin and Mamah Cheney, the ensuing liaison with Mamah and her subsequent death. It also examines Wright’s relationship with architect Louis Sullivan, his mentor and friend.
Hagen, the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Kennedy Center Friedheim Prize, two Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Fellowships and the Seattle Opera Chairman’s Award, originally wrote the opera with acclaimed Irish poet Paul Muldoon for a cast of 23 and a full symphonic orchestra.
Hagen returned to the work for Opera Theater, creating a shorter version with a more intimate orchestration which will be performed at Fallingwater and reprised during Opera Theater’s SummerFest season, July 6-21 in Pittsburgh.
“While Opera Theatre now presents a summer season, our company has a long tradition of touring,” says Eaton. “We’ve produced in a variety of spaces ranging from historical mansions and the Allegheny Cemetery to the Andy Warhol Museum and Carnegie Museum of Art. So we are up for the challenge of staging a production in the magnificent cantilevered structure of Wright’s Fallingwater.”
Transforming the weekend home-turned-museum into an opera house will require at least three days of installing lights, platforms for seating and other equipment.
This two-act opera features five performers and seven musicians, conducted by Robert Frankenberry, a cast member of the premiere recording of “Shining Brow” with JoAnn Falleta conducting the Buffalo Philharmonic.
Performances of “Shining Brow” at Fallingwater will begin at 7:30 p.m. with audience members invited to a reception at 6:30 p.m. If bad weather forces a cancellation of the June 7 and 8 performances, Opera Theater will perform on the Sunday, June 9. Pittsburgh audience members may arrange to travel to the Saturday performance on a chartered bus arranged by Opera Theater.
For more information about the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh and to purchase performance and bus tickets, visit www.otsummerfest.org or call the box office at 412-326-9687.
For more information about the opera and the composer, visit Hagen’s website at www.DaronHagen.com
About the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh:
Opera Theater of Pittsburgh crosses boundaries, reaching across traditional lines of demarcation in the arts to present works which engage diverse, new and younger audiences. Jonathan Eaton, Opera Theater’s current general and artistic director, joined the company in 1999. An internationally renowned stage director, Eaton continues Opera Theater’s mission.
In 2013, Opera Theater SummerFest presents its second summer season—three weeks of opera and musicals sung in English, Mozart chamber and vocal recitals, and four new miniature comic operas, from July 6-21. The venues are the intimate art deco spaces of The Twentieth Century Club in the heart of Pittsburgh’s original cultural corridor — Oakland. Patrons will enjoy dinners, receptions and ancillary events as well as opera performances, and end their evenings with a cocktail and cabaret. Family events include mainstage matinees of a charming Mozart opera for all ages “The Secret Gardener (La finta giardiniera)” and Super Saturday which features High Tea with Eaton.
Eaton directs two new mainstage productions “The Tales of Hoffman—Retold” and “Shining Brow.” The beloved American musical “A Little Night Music” by Stephen Sondheim is directed by Scott Wise. “Night Caps International,” a cycle of four newly-commissioned miniature operas with libretto by Rob Handel – all world premieres – will be performed following evening events. A Mozart Camp for adult music lovers will be offered during the festival’s closing week, in addition to Mozart recitals and “A Little Nightmare Music” featuring resident artists the Freya String Quartet and acclaimed countertenor Andrey Nezmer.
About the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy:
The Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (WPC) enhances the region’s quality of life by protecting and restoring exceptional places. A private nonprofit conservation organization founded in 1932, WPC has helped to establish ten state parks, conserved more than 233,000 acres of natural lands and protected or restored more than 1,500 miles of rivers and streams. The Conservancy owns and operates Fallingwater, which symbolizes people living in harmony with nature. In addition, WPC enriches our region’s cities and towns through 140 community gardens and greenspaces that are planted with the help of 13,000 volunteers. The work of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy is accomplished through the support of more than 11,000 members. For more information, visit WaterLandLife.org.
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy
Opera Theater SummerFest