|About this Recording
8.669028-29 - GORDON, R.I.: Rappahannock County [Opera] (Walters, Sherman, Tuell, Moreno, Moore, Virginia Arts Festival Orchestra, Fisher)
Ricky Ian Gordon (b. 1956)
Lyrics and Concept by Mark Campbell
Rev Zachariah Springer / Newspaper Editor / Jed Hotchkiss, Cartographer / John Smith, Forgotten Soldier / Elias Leggett, Deserter / Member of Susan Johnson’s Family, Exiled Virginian – Mark Walters, Baritone
Late Afternoon (2001)
Texts by Jane Kenyon, Jean Valentine and Marie Howe
Margaret Lattimore, Mezzo-soprano
Rappahannock County (2009/10)
Distilling the entire history of the Civil War into a 90-minute song cycle was a daunting task. So much has been written and debated about the War—and many of the scars it caused haven’t healed—that it almost seemed impossible to begin. Luckily, I had a wonderful Sherpa in Civil War scholar Ed Ayres when creating all of the characters, stories and themes—and finally the lyrics—for Rappahannock County.
Ed pointed me to the best and most relevant resources of information. And I devoured as much of it as I could. Read 15+ books. Googled obsessively. Spent days at the Virginia Historical Society and the Chrysler Museum. Histories, photographs, diaries, letters, old sheet music. Bierce, Crane, Melville, Whitman.
Soon, I started jotting down ideas for songs on note cards. That stack of cards grew to more than 40 in number. Paring those down to a manageable 21 songs, I formulated a structure using as a model Masters’ Spoon River Anthology, and decided to tell the story chronologically—from Secession to surrender—in five parts, one per year.
I rented a tiny apartment in off-season Provincetown and started writing.
No successful theatre work exists without collaboration and the contributions of the team for Ricky’s and my piece cannot be undervalued, including the commissioners, director Kevin Newbury, conductor Rob Fisher, projection designer Wendall Harrington, and our terrific cast: Mark Walters, Faith Sherman, Matthew Tuell, Kevin Moreno, and Aundi Marie Moore.
Late Afternoon (2001)
In 1997, in the throes of grief, less than a year after the death of my partner Jeffrey Grossi, I sought out the solace of writers and writing which could adequately describe the violence, and utter chaos I was going through. I ended up in Provincetown, primarily, because of a memoir the poet Mark Doty had written after the death of his lover Wally, called Heaven’s Coast. I somehow felt I needed to meet Mark and talk to him, a pilgrimage, if you will…but I ended up opening my world to many writers and writing I hadn’t known about. After befriending Mark, I became close with Marie Howe that summer who I had met only briefly when we did the AIDS Quilt Songbook together at Alice Tully Hall in 1992. Marie was about to publish her magnificent book What The Living Do. Jean Valentine I not only met, but studied with. (I studied with Marie a year later as well.) I learned that Jean and Marie, friends themselves, had both been very close with Jane Kenyon, the great poet and wife of the poet Donald Hall, who had died a few years earlier of leukemia. Through them, and another poet friend Michael Klein, I became familiar with and enamored of Jane’s work. Curiously, after hearing Jane’s name, I discovered her poems one day, as I aimlessly careened through Barnes and Noble’s, which I was wont to do often during that period of my life, and Jane’s posthumous collection Otherwise virtually jumped off the shelf at me. When I picked it up and read Otherwise, I was immediately galvanized. I learned that Jean wrote the elegy which was read at Jane’s funeral (and you are gone, blest boat, blest water, gone in the first hour and gone in the second hour) as well as another about a year later. Marie told me that when her brother Johnny, whose death prompted What The Living Do became very ill, Jane sent her Let Evening Come to comfort her. So I had the idea to frame these two poets and their beautiful elegies of grief, Jean’s Willi, Home and “X”, and Marie’s Just Now and What The Living Do, with the comfort, the loving arms, and support, of their mutual friend Jane, who, in the first song, Otherwise, is basking in the impermanent glory of an ordinary day, hallowing the ordinary…and at the end, Let Evening Come is seeking to comfort in the face of death. I think of this as a cycle about friendship and shared work, as well as a container for grief. I like that the singer, in this instance, Margaret Lattimore, gets to come at the subject from different angles…as one who is perhaps aware of her own mortality, one who is bereaved, and one who seeks to commune with the lost…to converse with the missing.
The first song I wrote for this cycle was Otherwise. I had Lorraine Hunt Lieberson’s voice in mind. She was a friend, and I found the sound of her voice in my inner ear a deep comfort. She sang both Otherwise and Let Evening Come in concert many times including with me at Lincoln Center on 13 March, 2001, and I acknowledge my debt to her for what her artistry has done to shape this cycle. But the entire cycle was premièred by Margaret Lattimore and consequently done many times by her, and enough cannot be said for the depth, openness, connectedness, intensity, musicality, and beauty of voice that she has brought to every performance of this cycle. So, thank you Maggie, as well.
Ricky Ian Gordon
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