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Last modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2005

IU Opera to present first collegiate production of Bolcom's "A View from the Bridge"

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Bolcom is back.

Pulitzer Prize-winning composer William Bolcom will return to the Indiana University Opera Theater in February for the first collegiate production of A View from the Bridge, his full-scale opera adapted from the Arthur Miller tragedy. It's the second time Bolcom has awarded IU's School of Music the distinction of being the first collegiate program to produce one of his works. In 1996, the IU Opera Theater delivered a critically acclaimed performance of the composer's McTeague.

Bolcom will be in Bloomington on Feb. 4 and 5 for the first two performances of A View from the Bridge, which will kick off the IU Opera Theater's spring season at the Musical Arts Center. Additional performances are scheduled for Feb. 11 and 12. All performances begin at 8 p.m.

Bolcom is back in the national spotlight, too. He will arrive at IU fresh off the monumental recording of poet William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience and the world premiere of Robert Altman's A Wedding at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. The former, which took decades to complete, was hailed by the Boston Globe as one of 2004's best classical releases and the American composer's "greatest work to date." The latter, based on Altman's 1978 film about a high society wedding, opened to rave reviews in December and will continue its Chicago run in January.

Bolcom's return to the IU Opera Theater will result in a new production of A View from the Bridge featuring original sets designed by Robert O'Hearn, professor emeritus of music and scenic design. O'Hearn assisted Tony Award-winning designer Boris Aronson on the original one-act play, which opened on Broadway in 1955 and ran there for 149 performances. Professor Vince Liotta, who staged McTeague at IU in 1996, will direct the opera. Guest conductor William Lumpkin will be at the podium.

About the opera

A View from the Bridge, which features music by Bolcom and a libretto by Arthur Miller and longtime Bolcom collaborator Arnold Weinstein, was commissioned by the Lyric Opera of Chicago and premiered in Oct. 1999. After its triumphant world premiere, it was remounted by the Metropolitan Opera in December 2002 and subsequently performed at Germany's Theatre Hagen and the Portland Opera in 2003. A Lyric Opera of Chicago recording of the opera is available on New World Records.

Miller's original play has been described as his most operatic. In fact, Bolcom discovered that an early sketch of the play was even subtitled An Opera. It was originally a screenplay called The Hook, written by Miller with assistance from the late director Elia Kazan. Miller withdrew the script in response to McCarthy-era studio complaints that it was un-American. Its basic themes of waterfront corruption, love, loyalty and betrayal resurfaced, though, in Kazan's 1954 Oscar-winning film, On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando.

Miller reshaped the script into A View from the Bridge, which is set in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., during the 1950s. The play tells the tragic story of longshoreman Eddie Carbone, who has complicated feelings for his beautiful young niece Catherine and jealous contempt for the flashy Sicilian immigrant, Rodolpho, who captures Catherine's heart.

Bolcom described A View from the Bridge as "a Greek tragedy played out on the Brooklyn dockyards. Like all of Miller's plays I know, (this work) has an enormous reserve of humor and human insight often overlooked by directors. Weinstein's text, drawn from the play's words, clarifies this important side of Miller, and I hope my music does the same."

O'Hearn's new set design should elicit further comparisons to the classic Greek tragedies. The designer said he used "red brick as a graphic motif to suggest the locale of the Brooklyn slums (and blood). The set is symmetrical and vertical with side piers (columns), and that is as 'Greek' as I did it. The Brooklyn Bridge appears in the background to tie the composition together."

About the composer

Seattle native William Bolcom is a recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for music and a distinguished professor of music at the University of Michigan. His work, which has been commissioned by major orchestras and organizations worldwide, covers a broad range of genres including symphonic, chamber music, oratorio and opera. As a composer, piano soloist and accompanist (primarily to mezzo-soprano Joan Morris, his wife), Bolcom is represented on several major recording labels.

Author of seven symphonies, Bolcom has won numerous grants and awards, most notably the Pulitzer Prize in music in 1988 for 12 New Etudes for Piano.

Bolcom's setting of William Blake's Songs of Innocence and of Experience, a full-evening work for soloists, choruses and orchestra, culminated 25 years of work on the piece. Bolcom began the arduous task of setting Blake's popular set of poems to music in the mid-1950s as a student at the University of Washington, but then he set the project aside until he arrived at the University of Michigan to teach composition in 1973.

The work requires several choruses, including a children's choir, five to 10 solo singers, and a large symphony orchestra complemented by extra electronic, brass and percussion instruments. Finally completed in 1982, it has been called one of the monumental achievements in classical music. A recording of the work, issued on Naxos' American Classics series, debuted in 2004 to rave reviews.

Bolcom credits the general university setting and the resources, including students, with allowing him to realize this dream project. "The university I thought would afford me some time to finally think about the whole piece and make it work in some kind of way, which I think it did do," he told National Public Radio in an October interview.

About the director

Vincent Liotta is co-founder of the Utah Festival Opera and a former faculty member of the University of Nebraska at Omaha and University of Washington in Seattle. He has acted as stage director for productions at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Canadian Opera, Teatro Colon, Vienna Staatsoper, Santa Fe Opera and Los Angeles Music Center; for world premieres of Coyote Tales, a new version of Greenwillow and Too Many Sopranos; and for the American premiere of Dragon of Wantley.

Liotta's recent IU Opera productions include Bolcom's McTeague, The Ghosts of Versailles, Ariadne auf Naxos, Arabella, Falstaff and The Rake's Progress. His original works for musical theater include a new libretto for Victor Herbert's operetta Naughty Marietta and Viva Verdi, a biographical evening about the life and work of Giuseppe Verdi.

Ticket information

Tickets are on sale now at the Musical Arts Center Box Office, open Monday through Friday from 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; at all TicketMaster outlets; by phone through TicketMaster at 812-333-9955; and online at More information about the IU Opera Theater can be found at

Showtime information

A View from the Bridge will be performed on Feb. 4 and 5 and again on Feb. 11 and 12 at the Musical Arts Center. All performances begin at 8 p.m. and are preceded by free Informances at 7 p.m. on the mezzanine level.