Thursday 2 September 2021

Re-visiting the American Dream: Emma Jude Harris' production of Amy Beach's only opera Cabildo


Amby Beach: Cabildo - Helen Stanley - (Photo Ali Wright)
Amy Beach: Cabildo - Helen Stanley - (Photo Ali Wright)

Amy Beach (1876-1944) became the first successful American female composer of large-scale music. Trained as a concert pianist, she turned to composing when marriage forced her to give up performance in public and her compositional style remained somewhat independent of the main-stream. Her large scale orchestral compositions date from the 1890s and much of her later output was for smaller forces, but in 1932 she wrote a one-act opera Cabildo. I am not clear quite why Beach turned to opera so relatively late in her career, and the work was not performed in her lifetime and had to wait until 1947 before its premiere and its first fully professional performance was not until 1995, with the first UK performance not until 2019.

In the opera, Beach makes use of folk-song and Creole tunes, and the libretto by Nan Bagby Smith tells the story of the pirate Pierre Lafitte during the War of 1812, between the USA and Great Britain, when Britain has New Orleans under siege. The Cabildo was the seat of Spanish colonial city hall of New Orleans, and in 1812 was used by the Louisiana territorial superior court.

American director, Emma Jude Harris directed Beach's Cabildo at Grimeborn in 2019, the work's UK premiere, and now the production is transferring to Wilton's Music Hall, 7-11 September 2021, with Peter Martin, Helen Stanley, Kieran Rayner and Julieth Lozano plus the Del Mar Trio (Yshani Perinpanayagam, piano, Francesca Barritt, violin, Morwenna Del Mar, cello)

Beach and Bagby's opera is a nostalgia-filled look at nineteenth-century American history, featuring folk influences and swashbuckling naval battles. This production will offer a critical perspective on the stories we tell about our national history. [see review of the original 2019 production in The Guardian]

Full details from the Wilton's Music Hall website.

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