A View from the Bridge
By Stephanie Miller
ANN ARBOR—Michigan Opera Theatre will present the Michigan premiere of William Bolcom’s internationally acclaimed, emotionally gripping opera “A View from the Bridge” with an opening night gala and performance to honor University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman at the Detroit Opera House.
The April 5 event will celebrate Coleman’s legacy of bringing U-M and Detroit closer through the arts and honor her and her husband Ken’s support of culture in Detroit. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. April 5, 9, 11 and 12, and 2:30 p.m. April 13.
Among the initiatives that have been established during Coleman’s 12-year tenure: the U-M Detroit Center established in 2005, located in the Cultural Center includes classrooms and space for exhibitions, lectures and project-based research; Semester in Detroit, inaugurated in 2009, designed for U-M students to live, learn and work in the city, and to develop reciprocal relationships with the people, organizations, and neighborhoods of Detroit; and a shuttle connector, transporting U-M students, faculty and staff to Detroit from Ann Arbor, with stops in the city’s Cultural Center and downtown, among others, several days a week. Coleman has announced her retirement from U-M, effective June 30.
The production of “A View from the Bridge” represents one high note in the decades-long artistic partnership between U-M’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance among the top performing arts schools in the country—and Michigan Opera Theatre, a jewel in Detroit’s cultural landscape. It is also emblematic of the ongoing and vital connections that have been forged between the university and Detroit’s arts community over the years.
From the earliest days of the opera company’s existence in the early 1970s, the School of Music, Theatre & Dance and Michigan Opera Theatre created an informal pipeline that has funneled generations of U-M trained performing artists at all stages of their careers—from apprentice to professor—to appear in countless MOT productions.
In the case of “A View from the Bridge,” the creators of the opera itself are also affiliated with U-M: Bolcom, a U-M professor emeritus of composition, and his librettist, Arnold Weinstein, collaborated closely with iconic American playwright Arthur Miller, a U-M alumnus, over four years to adapt Miller’s tragic play into a successful operatic experience. Miller was a co-librettist for the opera.
In addition to Bolcom and Miller, the MOT production features two U-M performers. Baritone Jonathan Lasch, a doctoral candidate at the SMTD, sings the role of Marco; and U-M alumnus Adrian Leskiw plays the second immigration officer.
The rewarding relationship between the university and opera company has most recently been cultivated by Coleman, SMTD Dean Christopher Kendall and MOT founder and artistic director David DiChiera.
“The partnership with U-M has been important and fruitful from the very beginning,” DiChiera said. “Our shared values concerning artistic diversity, accessibility of the arts and the development of young performers have allowed MOT to engage promising and established U-M artists through our apprentice program and after they have launched their careers.
“I’ve known Bill Bolcom for a number of years and I knew that one day I would find the perfect moment to present ‘A View from the Bridge'” DiChiera said. “We are thrilled to be able to showcase an opera written by a U-M composer and U-M playwright and at the same time to underline our mutual commitment to the arts.”
Reinforcing and strengthening the connection between the two institutions, Wayne Brown, MOT’s new president and CEO, is a U-M SMTD alumnus and Detroit native, who for the last 17 years was the director of music and opera at the National Endowment for the Arts after a long history with symphony orchestras across the country. Brown was honored with the SMTD Alumni Hall of Fame Award in 2012.
“The U-M School of Music, Theatre and Dance has always served as a springboard for our superbly trained alumni to move into the professional performing ranks,” said SMTD Dean Christopher Kendall. “In particular, our close proximity to and partnership with Michigan Opera Theatre has created a channel for these talented young artists to apprentice with the highest caliber operatic productions. We look forward to continuing and enhancing this special relationship with David DiChiera and now with our esteemed alumnus Wayne Brown as well.”
An “operatic play”
“A View from the Bridge” was commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago, where it had its world premiere in 1999 to sold-out audiences. It has subsequently been produced at the Metropolitan Opera in New York in 2002 and the Washington National Opera in 2010, among other houses. The opera, set in Red Hook, Brooklyn, around 1950, tells the story of an immigrant family seeking to adjust to life in America and struggling with the authorities. Complications arise when the family patriarch, an Italian American longshoreman, develops an illicit desire for his wife’s orphaned niece, now 17, whom the couple have raised as their own child. When a budding romance blossoms between the niece and a newcomer from Italy, it leads to explosive jealousy and a tragic climax.
Miller always considered “A View from the Bridge” to be an operatic play. Bolcom was originally approached by his longtime lyricist and librettist Arnold Weinstein and Miller, who were friends, to write the music for an opera adaptation of the play. Together they committed to keeping the opera to the same running time as the play—two hours—which resulted in Weinstein and Miller carefully cutting the play. According to Bolcom, Miller was often the most ruthless editor. Miller also contributed two arias not found in the play.
“In Italy, opera belongs to the people much more than it does in this country,” Bolcom said. “It seems everyone in Italy still knows the most famous tunes from Verdi’s operas. I tried with ‘A View from the Bridge’ to write something that addressed everyone in the way Verdi did so magnificently.”
Bolcom (born 1938), who was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1988 and the National Medal of Arts in 2006, is an astonishingly versatile and prolific composer of operas, symphonies, sonatas, concertos, piano music, choral works and cabaret songs. His works have been recorded on numerous labels, including CBS, Deutsche Grammophon, Jazzology, Naxos, Nonesuch, RCA and Vox. The U-M School of Music’s recording of his “Songs of Innocence and Experience” won four Grammys in 2006. He retired from the University of Michigan in 2008.
Founded in 1880, U-M’s School of Music, Theatre and Dance offers renowned programs in music, theatre and dance, across 15 disciplines of study and at all degree levels.
For more about the U-M School of Music, Theatre and Dance: http://music.umich.edu
University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance students and alumni who have performed with Michigan Opera Theatre: Michigan Opera Theatre alums