J. Mark Scearce (DM 93) Commissioned by the Center for Contemporary Opera

scearce-200Through a grant from the Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, the Center for Contemporary Opera has commissioned an opera, Falling Angel by Jacobs School alumnus J. Mark Scearce with libretto from Lucy Thurber based on the classic novel by William Hjorstberg. Falling Angel will receive its world premiere by the Center for Contemporary Opera in the fall of 2015 in New York with the possibility of subsequent performances in North Carolina and Europe.

Made into the movie Angel Heart in the 1980s, Falling Angel is the classic genre-crossing novel by William Hjortsberg part mystery, thriller, horror, and hard-boiled detective story.  Harry Angel is a private investigator in 1950s New York City. Hired by a mysterious stranger to find a Big Band crooner named Johnny Favorite, wildly popular during World War II but wounded in an air raid during the early years of the war.  Institutionalized for a time in upstate New York, Favorite has disappeared, and no one has seen him for more than a decade.   As Harry Angel follows the leads, it seems Favorite is right behind him, cleaning up loose ends.  From old jazz musicians, to secret lovers and forgotten daughters, Favorite eludes Angel until coming face to face “the hunter and the hunted”in a climax of cinematic horror in this opera noir.

In the Center for Contemporary Opera’s thirty year history, this is only the third opera it has commissioned.  We are delighted to commission this important new opera and look forward to bringing it to life through our development series leading to the premiere, said CCO’s General and Artistic Director, Jim Schaeffer.  I have previously worked with both composer and librettist and know how talented they are. This opera promises to be something special.

“To be among that handful of American composers commissioned to write opera is a great honor,” said Scearce.  “CCO’s reputation for promotion and dissemination of American opera makes this an exceptional opportunity.

Founded in 1982, The Center for Contemporary Opera is the leading proponent of new opera in the United States. Based in New York City, the company focuses on producing and developing new opera and music theater works and reviving rarely seen American operas written after the second World War. The Center for Contemporary Opera has staged the premieres of over seventy works and released five commercial recordings. It has toured Austria, Latvia, Hungary and France and its productions have been viewed by hundreds of thousands across Europe.  In addition to its productions, an important part of its work is the development of new operas. Works are presented at all stages from libretto readings, ateliers, concert versions, to full productions. In line with its mission to promote an interest in new operatic and music-theater culture among the American public, the company presents colloquia and publishes the magazine New Music Connoisseur which is one of the very few periodicals in the world devoted to contemporary classical music.

J. Mark Scearce is one of our nation’s most recognized and performed composers. Recipient of the 2010 Raleigh Medal of Arts and the 2009 International Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in Music Composition, Scearce has sixty active titles in his catalogue, including musical settings of more than two hundred texts by forty poets. Scearce’s many works for orchestra, band, chorus, opera, chamber, and ballet have been performed throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. The recipient of five advanced degrees in music, philosophy and religion, including the doctorate in composition from Indiana University, Scearce has won six international music competitions and his music is available on seven commercial recordings. Having taught on the music faculties of the Universities of Hawaii, North Texas, and Southern Maine, he is presently Director of the Music Department at NC State University where he is a tenured professor in the College of Design.

Lucy Thurber is the author of ten plays performed across the country. She was the recipient of the 2000-01 Manhattan Theatre Club Playwriting Fellowship. She was a guest artist at Alaska’s Perseverance Theatre twice and was one of three playwrights in residence at The Orchard Project, summer 2007. She is published by Dramatists Play Service. Thurber is a member of New Dramatists, 13P, MCC Playwrights Coalition. She has been commissioned by Playwrights Horizons, and she is currently writing a new play under a commission from Yale Rep. Thurber was also the librettist for the opera Faustine by Arlene Sierra which was presented by CCO as part of its Development Series. She is the recipient of the 1st Gary Bonasorte Memorial Prize for Playwriting 2008 and a proud recipient of a Lilly Award. Lucy currently teaches at NYU and Sarah Lawrence College.

The Virginia B. Toulmin Foundation, named after its founder, who died in 2010, commissions new works in opera, symphony, theatre and dance, as well as supporting selected performing arts organizations in Florida, Ohio, New York and nationally. The foundations other programs include supporting children and youth and the provision of health care.

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