GENERATIONS OF readers have turned to the novels and short stories of
Ernest Hemingway, and found inspiration in their terse, virile prose that so
aptly conveyed the moral ambiguities of war and the importance of honor and
dignity in the face of human adversity. Webster Young is no exception in his
love of Hemingway, but he also found a little something extra: an opera.
On Sunday night, the Long Island Opera Company, of which Young is the
artistic director and general manager, will present the world premiere of his
own one-act opera, "The Sun Also Rises." The work uses his own libretto adapted
from the novel, and includes direct quotations from Hemingway's text.
For Young, who wrote the opera in 1996, the novel was a natural choice. "I
had my eye on Hemingway short stories for a couple of years as good material
for a one-act opera," he said. "Then I realized that 'The Sun Also Rises' has a
powerful one-act scenario as well, even though it's a novel. When I eventually
sat down to compose, I wrote it faster than anything I'd ever written before."
The work, which will be paired with Mascagni's "Zanetto," is Young's second
of four forays into the genre. The 49-year-old composer received his training
at Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music. Before turning to opera, Young
specialized in ballets. He composed 10 scores during the 1980s and early '90s
in partnership with the late choreographer Eric Hyrst, a collaboration that was
the subject of a documentary film called "Two for Ballet." And while Young
sees his balletic period as having provided him with solid training in writing
for the stage, he feels that his true calling is opera.
"It was obvious to me from the very beginning of my involvement in
classical music that the meaning behind stories set to music was the most
interesting thing," he said. "To me there's always a vision of something more
For Young, that "something more" in his current work is Hemingway's central
theme of the dehumanizing effects of war and its implications for human
emotion. Jake, the veteran who is the central character, struggles with his
inability to love on both a physical and emotional level. Young said that
Hemingway's broader message was that "World War I had rendered modern man
incapable of loving in a higher spiritual sense."
And how will this all translate into music? Young explained that he has
filled his score with expansive, tuneful arias. "One of my goals in general as
a musician is to be a melodist," he said. Young added that this straightforward
approach to melody has occasionally been a bone of contention with critics who
favor a more modernist technique. "Writing long, beautiful melodies in the
modern age without imitating precisely everything in the past," he said, "is
the great problem of music today."
WHERE&WHEN "The Sun Also Rises," world premiere of opera by Webster Young.
Long Island Opera, conducted by Richard Aulden. Sunday at 7:30 p.m. Hays
Theater, Molloy College, Rockville Centre. $28. Call 516-616-3556.