“Golden Gate,” the opera: Coming to a theater near you!


Well, what do you know!  This week’s posts (here and here) on Vikram Seth‘s The Golden Gate elicited this reaction from Kären Nagy:

“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.

Kären Nagy tipped me off (Photo: L.A. Cicero)

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!

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3 Responses to ““Golden Gate,” the opera: Coming to a theater near you!”

  1. Frances Madeson Says:

    I saw your post a few days back about Richard Wilbur, somewhere right around the ice cream sundae, which works perfectly for me. I wanted to tell you that I met Mr. Wilbur at a reception following his reading at the Greene Space in NYC recorded here: http://beta.wnyc.org/thegreenespace/events/2010/may/03/moliere-la-richard-wilbur/ The tape is long, very worthwhile, but if you only have a few minutes, treat yourself to his letter poems around the 70 minute mark (no spoon needed).

    We had a wonderful conversation about his late wife, what daily life is now like without her presence (they were married 60+ years), about how much he enjoys his children and working with his biographer (yes, he has one!), and other miscellany. The reason I mention it in this comment thread (besides my own selfish pleasure at reliving it) is that I suggested to him that he collaborate with a composer on a chamber opera using his own poetry, extant texts and new ones too, and this is what he told me with twinkles in both eyes.

    Mr. Wilbur said, “I hadn’t thought of giving myself such a challenge, but maybe it’s just the sort of challenge I need right now.”

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    I will, Frances. Thanks for this.

    And I didn’t know there was a Wilbur biography in the works. Who is the biographer?

    I had lunch with R.W. and Charlotte (“a wild sostenuto of the heart”) some years back at a West Chester poetry conference. What a lovely couple!

  3. Frances Madeson Says:

    How funny, I didn’t think to ask the name. Probably because, as I reflect back on that particular exchange, he lowered his voice when he spoke of the fact of the biographer, so we moved on. But I did glean that they see each other regularly and that he was engaged and enjoying the process, so whoever it is has at least that much talent.

    Lunch with R.W. and Charlotte seems so great. Even from that one brief conversation I had with Mr. Wilbur, I just bet he’d love to read your memories of his wife if you wrote a post about lunch together in West Chester.