Thursday, April 8, 2010

What’s AMELIA About? Parents and Kids

Seattle Opera has been celebrating the works of Giuseppe Verdi all season, a composer famous for his breathtaking music inspired by stories about parents and children: about Germont and Alfredo, in La traviata, about Azucena and Manrico, in Il trovatore, about Rigoletto and Gilda, Amonasro and Aida, Fillipo and Carlo, Miller and Luisa, Simon Boccanegra and his Amelia.

But it’s time now for another operatic Amelia. And Daron Hagen’s new opera is just as concerned with parent/child relationships as any work by Giuseppe Verdi. At the heart of Hagen’s new opera is the relationship between Amelia and her father, Dodge, and the journey of a daughter who has lost her father. But we also meet a father who loses his son, as in the Greek myth of Daedalus and Icarus; and a couple, Huy and Trang, who lose their daughter. The pain of breaking that bond between parent and child is one of the universal human experiences, those things opera can approach in a way that nothing else can.

But Amelia isn’t only about loss. The musical climax of the opera comes in the final scene, when Amelia gives birth to a daughter. I don’t know of any opera that puts the experience of birth front and center, musically, the way Amelia does. Librettist Gardner McFall and composer Hagen drew on their own experiences of becoming parents to create the scene, giving it a powerful authenticity. I’m not a parent, myself, but I’ve just recently been privileged to witness the miracle of birth, with my best friend. A week or two after the delivery, I shared some of Amelia with my friend and her family, a sneak peek at the poetry and music of the final scene. And even on paper, not yet realized by professional musicians, the opera touched a universal chord.

Above, Daron Hagen with Atticus, in Seattle in 2008

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