'Middlemarch' goes to the opera

Creators of the first opera ever based on George Eliot’s 1874 classic “Middlemarch: A Study of Provincial Life” have nothing but praise for their source material.

“To bring this great novel to life as an opera for a modern audience is to relive it totally, rediscover its power and timeless eloquence,” says librettist Claudia Stevens, co-writer of “Middlemarch in Spring,” which gets its world premiere at Z Space in The City this week.

“It has been decades since I read the novel, but elements of it lingered strongly in my memory, especially the characters: the pedantic scholar Casaubon; Dorothea the idealistic heroine who marries him for the wrong reasons; and the struggling young Will Ladislaw, who loves her from a distance. These characters are like no others,” says Stevens’ husband Allen Shearer, a singer and composer who wrote the “Middlemarch” score.

The producton, presented by Composers, Inc., features soprano Sara Duchovnay as Dorothea, a well-to-do young woman who works with the poor, aiming to find purpose in life. When elderly scholar Casaubon (bass-baritone Philip Skinner) impresses her with talk of his intellectual work, she decides to make helping him her noble project and marries him.

The story gets complicated and dramatic when Dorothea tires of her troublesome husband and becomes attracted to young, artistic Ladislaw (tenor Daniel Curran), who inevitably turns his attention elsewhere – to Dorothea's younger sister, Celia (soprano Tonia D'Amelio).

“It was very exciting to embark on this. Dorothea’s disastrous marriage, and how she later gives up her dreams to follow her heart – this is the stuff of opera. From it we constructed a dynamic arc. And it is not merely a love story. It plays out against a rigid class structure, greed, pettiness and political gridlock. It speaks to our own time,” says Shearer, whose previous compositions have been described as “tuneful and harmonious.”

Rounding out the artistic team are stage director Phil Lowery, and Jonathan Khuner, who conducts a chamber orchestra, which at one point joins the action onstage. Presenter Composers, Inc. has supported new music in the Bay Area for more than 30 years. Its previous productions include Shearer's one-act opera “The Dawn Makers,” which is a finalist in the 2014-16 Dominick Argento Chamber Opera Competition of the National Opera Association.

Composers, Inc.'s Kickstarter campaign to finance “Middlemarch in Spring” raised more than $4,000 in small, individual donations.


Middlemarch in Spring

Presented by Composers Inc.

Where: Z Space, 450 Florida St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. March 19=22

Tickets: $25 to $30

Contact: (866) 811-4111,

Allen ShearerartsClassical Music & OperaClaudia StevensMiddlemarch in Spring

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