Julia Adolphe & Stephanie Fleischmann's "A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears"
A comic opera-in-progress for all ages
7:30pm doors • 8pm show
Already “making waves in the classical music world” (The Frame, KPCC), composer Julia Adolphe’s new comic opera, A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears, is based on the novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Jules Feiffer. With a libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann, it’s a wonderfully loopy fairytale about Izzy, a young royal doomed to make everyone around her laugh so hard that nothing gets done in her presence. How to cure her — and her kingdom — of this affliction? Why, send her on a quest, of course. An opera for all ages, this playful, rollicking tale plumbs the perils of growing up and into one’s true self, challenging the conventional gender roles and relationships of the archetypal fairytale. A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears not only enchants but also provokes, asking what it means to be innocent, imaginative, and spontaneous in an unpredictable, ever-changing world.
This music workshop will present excerpts from the opera-in-progress, followed by a Q&A with the audience.
Based on the novel by Jules Feiffer
Conducted by David Hanlon
Directed by Elkhanah Pulitzer
Featuring: The Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Dianne Berkun-Menaker, Director; Maggie Finnegan, Eve Gigliotti, Dominic Armstrong, Thomas Shivone, Alaysha Fox, Victoria Fox, Erika Dohi, Erin Lensing, and Sarah Rommel
A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears has received support from: OPERA America Discovery Grant, Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, National Sawdust, Boston Court Pasadena, Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, Shay Marcus, Ari Libenson, David Block, Nicholas Block, Evelyn Block, and Bonnie Zirkel
Julia Adolphe’s music has been described as “alive with invention” (Alex Ross, The New Yorker), “colorful, mercurial, deftly orchestrated” (Anthony Tommasini, The New York Times) displaying “a remarkable gift for sustaining a compelling musical narrative” (Thomas May, Musical America). Adolphe’s works are performed across the U.S. and abroad by renowned orchestras and ensembles such as the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, North Carolina Symphony, the Eastern Festival Orchestra, James Conlon and the Cincinnati May Festival Chorus, the Bravo! Vail Music Festival, soprano Hila Plitmann, pianist Gloria Cheng, and Kaleidoscope Chamber Orchestra, among others. Her awards include a 2017 ASCAP Young Composer Award, a 2016 Lincoln Center Emerging Artists Award, a 2016 OPERA America Discovery Grant, and a 2015 Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Adolphe is a native New Yorker living in Los Angeles.
Current commissions include an orchestral work for the LA Philharmonic’s centennial season, choral works for the Brooklyn Youth Chorus and Peninsula Women’s Chorus, and a comic opera entitled A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tearsbased on the novel by Jules Feiffer with a libretto by Stephanie Fleischmann. Adolphe’s 2017 orchestral work, White Stone, premiered by Alan Gilbert and the New York Philharmonic, follows on the heels of the NY Philharmonic’s 2016 premiere of Unearth, Release, Adolphe’s viola concerto composed for Cynthia Phelps, and Dark Sand, Sifting Light, featured during the 2014 NY PHIL BIENNIAL. Conducted by Jaap Van Zweden, Unearth, Release was called “a significant new work…a poetically haunting meditation” (Musical America) concluding with “a bold choice…(where) the viola floats mystical lines above the tremulous, shimmering orchestra” (The New York Times).
Adolphe’s chamber opera, SYLVIA, received its concert premiere at New York City’s Bargemusic in March 2013 in a set of performances produced by the composer herself. Based on her original story and libretto, Adolphe composed and produced a workshop of SYLVIA in April 2012 at the Lost Studio theater in Los Angeles. An excerpt of the one-act opera was subsequently performed at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust as part of the Yom HaShoah Commemoration and called "ambitious and defiantly audacious" (Out West Arts). In New York, SYLVIA was hailed as “a short, sharp, powerful opera…searingly vivid” (eMusic) presented "with great clarity, composer and librettist Julia Adolphe encapsulates Sylvia’s dilemma in a plaintive cry” (cityArts).
Adolphe is also an active writer, teacher, and producer. In 2014, NewMusicBox published Adolphe’s articles on teaching music in an all-male maximum security prison. In 2013, Adolphe was co-producer of The Prodigal Sonconducted by James Conlon for the LA Opera Britten Centennial. As a USC Teaching Assistant, Adolphe taught courses on the History of the Beatles and Classic Rock. Adolphe currently pursues a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the USC Thornton School of Music. Prior teachers include Stephen Hartke, Steven Stucky, and Donald Crockett. Adolphe holds a Master of Music degree in music composition from USC and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music and the College Scholar Program from Cornell University.
Stephanie Fleischmann is a playwright and librettist whose texts serve as blueprints for intricate three-dimensional sonic and visual worlds. She has been called a “neo Emily Dickinson” (Backstage) and “a writer who can conjure something between a dreamy road movie and a theatrical coming-of-age tale, and who can piece these elements together in the style of a jagged ballad for guitar” (Chicago Sun Times). Her “lyrical monologues” (The New York Times), “smart” opera libretti (Opera News), plays and music-theater works have been performed internationally and across the U.S.
Opera libretti include: The Long Walk, music by Jeremy Howard Beck, commissioned by American Lyric Theater (premiere: Opera Saratoga, July 2015; Utah Opera, March 2017; Pittsburgh Opera, January 2018); After the Storm, music by David Hanlon, commissioned by Houston Grand Opera’s HGOco (premiere: May 2016); In a Grove, with composer Christopher Cerrone, Mahogany Opera Group, ICA London, Mass MoCA; The Property, music by Wlad Marhulets, commissioned by Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Lyric Unlimited (premiere: February 2015); Boundless, a video opera serial with composer Avner Dorman for HGOco. Upcoming: Poppaea, with composer Michael Hersch for Wien Modern (2020), The Pigeon Keeper, with composer David Hanlon for Santa Fe Opera’s Opera for All Voices, Arkhipov, with composer Peter Knell (Jacaranda), and Barrel of Laughs, Vale of Tears, with composer Julia Adolphe (National Sawdust) and untitled opera about homelessness for HGOco with Jeremy Howard Beck. Fleischmann’s texts and songs have been set by composers Olga Neuwirth (Aldeburgh, Basel, Berlin, Vienna), Brendan Connelly, Sxip Shirey, Theo Popov, Jeff Smith, and Elspeth Brooke.
Music-theater works include Niagara, with composer Bobby Previte and director Daniel Fish; Red Fly/Blue Bottle (Latitude 14: Here Arts Center, NYC; EMPAC, Troy, NY; Noorderzon Festival, the NL; developed in collaboration with Mallory Catlett), The Secret Lives of Coats (Red Eye Theater, Minneapolis; Whitman College, WA; the Playwrights Center/Playlabs), music for both by Christina Campanella; The Sweetest Life, music by Saskia Lane, developed in collaboration with Melissa Kievman and Julian Crouch (New Victory LabWorks; Vineyard Theatre; BRIC lab); The Hotel Carter, music by Jenny Giering. Plays include: Sound House, Eloise & Ray, Tally Ho, The Street of Useful Things, What the Moon Saw, The World Speed Carnival, and more. Her work has also been developed or presented at venues including Exit Festival (France), Roundhouse Studio (London), Synchronicity (Atlanta), Son of Semele (LA), Roadworks (Chicago), the Hollywood Bowl, the Ojai Festival, Empty Space, Act II, Asolo Rep; and in NYC at New Georges, Soho Rep, Mabou Mines/Suite, Theater for One, the Knitting Factory, Prelude, and the Public.
Additional collaborations include lyrics and dramaturgy for Melissa Kievman & Brian Mertes’ Chekhov at Lake Lucille (including the film The Seagull—lyrics/story producer) and text/dramaturgy for Andy Dawson’s The Russian Doctor, a devised performance inspired by Chekhov’s Sakhalin Island, (Birmingham Rep, Bristol Old Vic, Winchester Theatre Royal, UK; Mass MoCA, US) and lyrics/dramaturgy/co-devising with Brian Mertes at Juilliard (The Greeks, Parts 2 & 3; The Americans).
Fleischmann is a recipient of a 2018 Virginia B. Toulmin grant, a 2017 Venturous Capital Fund grant, a 2017 NYSCA Individual Artist Commission, a 2014–15 Howard Foundation Fellowship in Playwriting, a grant from Arts Council England (for Tally Ho/NYLon Projects), two NYSCA Individual Artist Commissions, an NEA Opera/Music-Theater commission, two New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowships, a Tennessee Williams Fellowship, and the Frederick Loewe and Whitfield Cook Awards, as well as residencies at Macdowell, Hedgebrook, HARP, among others. Her work has been supported by the MAP Fund, Opera America, New Music USA, the Greenwall Foundation, Mid-Atlantic Arts Fund, the Tobin Foundation, Pew Charitable Trust, the Anna Sosenko Assist Trust, the Copeland Fund, LMCC Swingspace & NY State Music Fund. She is a former American Lyric Theater Resident artist and Playwrights Center Core Writer, an alumna of New Dramatists, and was a 2015–16 New Georges Audrey Residency recipient.
She received her MFA from Brooklyn College, where she studied with Mac Wellman. She has taught at Sewanee, Bard, and Skidmore Colleges. Her plays are published by: Play, a Journal of Plays; Playscripts.com; and Smith and Krauss.