“I thought you might be interested to learn (if you don’t already know!) that it’s become the basis of a new chamber opera with music by Conrad Cummings. I learned about this from Shelley Fisher Fishkin several months ago after she had seen the New York City production noted in the blurb I just forwarded to you. Via Shelley, I’ve learned that Cummings is trying to bring the production to San Francisco, and SiCa [Stanford Institute for Creativity and the Arts] has indicated we’ll try to help with some Stanford programming connections if/when that happens – getting students to the production, perhaps a panel and/or some curricular connections here, etc. All this just FYI to keep your eyes open for developments in the future!”
Indeed something to look forward to. The poster she included from American Opera Projects had this to say:
An Opera in Two Acts
Music by Conrad Cummings
Libretto from the novel in verse by Vikram Seth, adapted by the composer
With a libretto adapted from Vikram Seth’s best-selling novel in verse The Golden Gate, five twenty-somethings experience love, life, and loss in the magical and innocent San Francisco of the early 1980’s. John, handsome and successful, will discover too late the price of his emotional detachment. He has just met Liz through a personals ad placed by his former college girlfriend Jan, a sculptor and punk rock drummer. Meanwhile, John’s best friend from college Phil, reeling from a divorce which has left him the sole single parent of a six-year-old, begins a passionate relationship with the Ed, Liz’s younger brother. Ed is bright, gorgeous, in search of a lover and mentor, and a profoundly conflicted devout Catholic. Couples come apart; new couples form, families are created, friendships are severed. A tragic death leads John, always the outsider, to the promise of a deeper connection and a warmer life.
Vikram Seth’s source novel is composed entirely of 690 rhyming tentrameter sonnets and was inspired by Pushkin’s Eugene Onegin.
Leah Garchik at the San Francisco Chronicle explains how it all came about:
“In New York, opera lover and San Francisco Opera aficionado Perry-Lynn Moffitt went to a Brooklyn performance of six scenes from operas workshopped by America Opera Projects. At the end of the evening, the one chosen for further development wasa setting of Vikram Seth’s The Golden Gate, a novel in sonnet form. The composer, Conrad Cummings, grew up on Masonic in the Upper Haight. Moffitt, who used to live here, too, says it’s a ‘dramatic, moving, lyrical piece with lush vocal writing that deserves to be heard in San Francisco, above all other cities.”
Honestly, San Franciscan Cummings himself looks like a character out of The Golden Gate.
Steve Smith writes about the first (semi-staged) production in the New York Times here:
In creating an opera based on Mr. Seth’s novel, the composer Conrad Cummings has fashioned an equally improbable fusion: lithe melodic lines that flow and entwine in the manner of Monteverdi, peppered with musical references to Henry Mancini and the punk band Black Flag.
Mr. Smith may know music but he doesn’t know verse: he refers to Seth’s “stately sonnets” — heavens, they’re not “stately,” they’re witty, brisk, fleet-footed, and playful!