Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Shared Experiences: Alix Wilber

Amelia librettist Gardner McFall spoke at Seattle's Richard Hugo House (left) on April 26, 2010, on the subject of "Autobiographical Writing: From Life to Text." To read Gardner's remarks from that evening, CLICK HERE. We're grateful for today's Shared Experiences post to Alix Wilber, Program Director of Hugo House, who posted the following on the Hugo House Blog:

"I went to see Amelia at the Seattle Opera last Wednesday night.

I was invited to be a guest of the Opera because a few weeks ago Hugo House hosted the librettist, Gardner McFall, at a special talk she gave in our Cabaret on the problems of autobiography (Amelia is based loosely on McFall’s own experience of losing her father, a navy pilot, during the Vietnam War.) In return, I got an amazing meal, the best seats in the hall—and free wine and chocolate truffles at intermission!

But I digress.

Even without the truffles or the box seat, I would have gone to see Amelia. I’m a huge opera fan to begin with--and I’m always interested in other arts organizations that, like Hugo House, are committed to fostering the creation of new work. In fact, just a few days before my night at the opera, I’d attended a local theater that was premiering a new work they had commissioned; sadly, I thought it failed pretty spectacularly as a play, but I have great admiration for the playwright who poured heart and soul into it, and for the theatre, which took a great financial and artistic risk to midwife it.

From the moment the curtain went up on Amelia, it was clear that the Seattle Opera had also put themselves on the line. In an economy where the safe bet is to put on those tried and true audience pleasers (La bohème! Il trovatore! La traviata! Anything by Wagner!), they chose to produce a new work on a difficult subject and with music that people probably won’t be humming on their way back to their cars. Add to that the most intricate staging and production values I’ve seen anywhere--well, the financial risk alone was huge, let alone what the critics might say.

And it worked. It was stunning, transporting, even transcendent. I went home feeling as though I’d been permanently changed somehow by my evening with Amelia. And when I woke up the next morning, I thought about something the character of the Navy pilot sang when explaining to his young daughter why he loved to fly even though it was dangerous: “The risk is worth the love.”

It’s a recurring theme throughout the opera as characters are confronted with dangers both physical and psychic--from flying solo around the world in 1937, to flying combat missions over Vietnam in 1965, to bringing a child into this uncertain world in 1996. “The risk is worth the love,” Dodge says, and 30 years later, his pregnant daughter finally understands what he meant.

And I understand it, too--whenever we commission a writer to step off a high cliff and write something new; whenever I see other organizations doing the same, be it opera or theater or dance: there are no guarantees that you won’t fall, that you won’t fail. But to be in at the creation! --well, the risk is worth the love.


  1. It's been a pleasure to read the essays of other opera-goers, their reactions to the opera. It makes the opera itself a richer deeper experience. I applaud this blog's choice to stop (or so it seems) posting comedic lines to opera scenes. I'm all for humor, but it did start to feel disrespectful and overly done. As a season ticket holder I go to this blog regularly to deepen and enrich my understanding of the current operas.

  2. Thanks for reading! Each opera is different, so we get the opportunity to try lots of different things with this blog...our only limitation is time.

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