Music & Opera
Dana Gioia studied music for many years and originally hoped to be a composer. As a poet, he has collaborated with many composers and musicians—mostly from the classical tradition but also in jazz and rock. Gioia has also frequently written on music. For seven years he was the classical music critic for San Francisco magazine.
As Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia created and supported many major musical programs including NEA Jazz Masters, Great American Voices, and the American Masterpieces tours in musical theater, chamber music, and choral music. In 2008 he created the first new U.S. government arts award in 28 years—the NEA Opera Honors. These lifetime achievement awards for distinguished contributions to opera are given annually to a singer, composer, musician, and advocate of historical importance. The first winners were soprano Leontyne Price, composer Carlisle Floyd, conductor James Levine, and opera general director Richard Gaddes.
Gioia has written two opera libretti—Nosferatu (2004) with composer Alva Henderson and Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast (2008) with Paul Salerni. His poems have
been set to music many composers, including Dave Brubeck, Ned Rorem, David Conte,
Lori Laitman, Stefania de Kenessey, Paquito D'Rivera, Helen Sung, Jack Hues, Beth Anderson, Alva Henderson, Paul Salerni, Stephen Flaherty, and others. Laitman, Salerni, and de Kenessey have each done
song cycles based on Gioia's work. Henderson has also composed a symphonic choral
work, "Winter Requiem" (2003) based on Gioia's poems.
Gioia's first libretto, Nosferatu, was written for Alva Henderson. The opera was developed slowly with each major scene being premiered in vocal concerts and then three major concert
showcases of the work in Colorado, California, and Tennesee before the joint world premiere
at Rimrock Opera and Opera Idaho in 2004. The work has been recorded with the premiere
case on Albany Records.
Gioia's second opera project was Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast, an experimental one-act opera in ten short scenes composed by Paul Salerni. Drawing from different musical traditions and mixing realism with vision and fantasy, this work was also developed through several concert performances and showcases. In 2007 it was chosen from among 70 other works by the National Opera Association as the best new American chamber opera. Officially premiered in Los Angeles in January, 2008, Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast has already been produced in several cities.
Gioia is currently working on his third libretto.
Based on the classic 1922 vampire film by F. W. Murnau, Nosferatu is a retelling of the dracula story from the perspective of a gifted woman struggling againt the pull of evil, even as she watches it destroy the man she loves. Click here for a synopsis of the opera.
Read Dana Gioia's interview with Lequita Vance-Watkins about the writing of Nosferatu and the role of the poet as librettist. The Rimrock Opera Company has created a Web page with pictures from their production of Nosferatu.
Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast
Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast is a one-act opera in ten short scenes. It takes place in the studio of a bankrupt classical music station on its last night of broadcasting. (At midnight the new owners will convert the frequency to easy listening.) The work presents the final show of the station's last night, an opera program hosted by a failed tenor, Antonio Caruso. Moving from realism to satire to visionary lyricism, Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast is an experimental work that innovatively delivers the theatrical magic of traditional opera.
The libretto for Tony Caruso's Final Broadcast was published in Italian Americana (Winter 2005) accompanied by a long inteview with composer Paul Salerni. A recording of the opera will appear in 2010 on a Naxos CD.