Claire

Opera in Two Acts

Libretto by Leven Dawson

1979

90 minutes

For solo voices, chorus, and orchestra

[Withdrawn, not available for performance]

Composer Notes: Poet Leven Dawson’s story for this opera was set in 19th-century New Orleans. The libretto revolved around a tradition in which wealthy French-American men kept mixed-race mistresses. In his story two women are involved with the same man—one as his wife and the other as his mistress. What none of them know is that the wife and mistress are half-sisters—they are both daughters of the same man (one by marriage and one born without his knowledge to a former mistress). These relationships become known only after the wife has learned her husband has a mistress and has arranged to have her killed.

Leven and I were both living in New Orleans when we started working on this opera. After I read his finished libretto, I tried to point out some potential dramatic and staging issues, but the story and words had just “come to” Leven, and he was not used to revising. So he confessed he had no idea how to revise the plot relative to my concerns.

At this point a wiser, more experienced composer would have abandoned the project. But Leven’s language in the libretto was remarkably beautiful—sometimes elevated and sometimes vernacular—and the essence of the plot was intriguing. Seduced by these elements, I started composing music and quickly finished a first draft of the opera. I suppose I imagined we could somehow address the pragmatic theatrical problems in a second draft.

Unfortunately that never happened. Leven continued to find revision impossible, and I moved away to accept a position at Arizona State University. A few long-distance efforts to work together to make changes went nowhere. Sadly, Leven was killed in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina obliterated much of the town of Waveland, Mississippi. For me, his death closed the door on this project.