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Now It's a Papa Opera / An LI composer adapts Hemingway's 'Sun Also Rises'

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

behind opera."

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.

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