Dominick Argento's The Aspern Papers at the Dallas Opera
Dallas Opera premieres new production directed by Tim Albery
The Dallas Opera will begin its run of Dominick Argento’s The Aspern Papers on April 12 (with performances extending through to April 28) in celebration of the 25th anniversary of this commissioned work by the same company. In a new production directed by Tim Albery and conducted by Graeme Jenkins, The Aspern Papers features mezzo-soprano Susan Graham in her Dallas Opera debut, with baritone Nathan Gunn, soprano Alexandra Deshorties, and tenor Joseph Kaiser.
Adapted from the Henry James novella of the same name, The Aspern Papers follows James’s plot with some alterations. Departing from several elements in James’s story, Argento explains “the locale has been shifted from a palazzo in Venice to a villa on Lake Como; Aspern, a poet, has been transformed into a composer (modeled after Bellini, himself a somewhat Shelley-esque artist); a few new characters have been introduced; and some anecdotal details of the bel canto era have been borrowed.”
He explains the idea behind events in the story and the associated staging: “James tells his story in a half-dozen or so separate episodes spread out over the course of a single summer (I chose to make it the year 1895). Between these episodes a period of time passes, ranging from a day to six weeks. It would have been possible in a dramatization merely to lower the curtain to indicate these passages of time, and then raise it on the next scene (as, Sir Michael Redgrave does in his 1959 stage version). I opted, however, to take advantage of these pauses in the principal action to show what occurred sixty years earlier; this is the most thorough-going departure from James. Consequently, the libretto proceeds with scenes from the summer of 1895 (the lodger's arrival, his efforts to obtain the papers, the outcome of those efforts) alternating with scenes from the summer of 1835 (the old lady's memories of the long-ago love affair with Aspern, his infidelity and tragic early death, her reasons for withholding his papers from the world). These are episodes James sketchily alludes to in passing, although they are intentionally left indistinct.”
The Dallas Opera’s world premiere production of The Aspern Papers took place November 19, 1988.
> Further information on Work: The Aspern Papers
Photo: Tom Berthiaume