PHOTO CAPTION: Guggenheim recipient and award- winning composer Sheila Silver(left) has created a songbook based upon the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Beauty Intolerable, developed with the support of American Opera Projects, the Millay Society, ClaverackLanding and Symphony Space, will have its world premiere on Saturday, June 8th at 6 pm. The presentation, with special appearance by Tyne Daly, will take place at the First Presbyterian Church, Hudson, NY. For tickets go to www.ClaverackLanding.org or call 518.828.7513. Photo credit: Metsha Renois
Wanting More – A Poet and a Composer
HUDSON – In spite of living less than ten minutes away from Steepletop, home of the Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay for most of her adult life, composer Sheila Silver came to be involved with her work quite late in life. That’s not to say she was unaware of the poet. In fact, in the early 1980s, she served on the panel that reviewed and selected applicants to stay at the Millay Colony, a retreat for artists.
“I probably worked on that panel for 5 or 6 years,” she says. “They kept offering me a chance to take up residence there myself, but I never did. It never quite worked out. Little did I know I’d be buying a house so close (Spencertown) 10 years later.”
Fast forward to Silver’s work with a young composer, a student in one of her music classes at SUNY, Stonybrook. “She was setting a Millay poem to music,” the Professor explains. “But she was having kind of a tough time because she was so young and the poem, about love, was so powerful.” The result was a struggle for the student, but an awakening for the teacher.
“That poem got me interested in Millay,” Silver says. “I read two of the most comprehensive biographies (one of which is entitled, Beauty Intolerable) and by the time I shut the last book, I’d decided Edna St. Vincent Millay would be the subject of an opera.”
But the fates had other ideas for Silver. Instead, she composed The Wooden Sword, an opera that received the Raymond and Beverly Sackler Prize in 2007, then The White Rooster (performed in Hudson during the 2011 ClaverackLanding season), a piece that includes percussion and 6 Tibetan singing bowls.
It wasn’t until she ran into ClaverackLanding’s founder, Gwen Gould, in the company of Millay Society Director, Peter Bergman that the “bug” bit again. With the encouragement of these two colleagues, Silver set about learning all she could about Millay
The result, Beauty Intolerable – A Songbook, based on the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay, will be presented by ClaverackLanding on Saturday, June 8th at 6 pm at the First Presbyterian Church, Warren and Fourth Streets in Hudson. It is the world premiere of this work and will feature Lauren Flanigan, soprano, Deanne Meek, mezzo-soprano and Risa Renae Harman, lyric soprano. Poems will be recited by Tyne Daly, known to television viewers for her work on Cagney & Lacy and recipient of six Emmy Awards. Tickets are available at www.ClaverackLanding.org.
“Millay led an incredible life,” Silver says. ““I didn’t have an angle on how to present her life in an opera. But once I started setting her poems to music I was so delighted with the result that I thought the songs said enough. I felt satisfied. Enough so that I could step away.” “
At least, for a while. Silver is about to leave for India where she’ll be studying Hindustani music in preparation for beginning her new opera, A Thousand Splendid Suns based on the internationally best-selling novel by Khaled Hosseini . She’s been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to help in that pursuit.
“I’m going to move into a completely different kind of music,” the composer concludes. “Then, when I’ve finished, if Edna is still lingering on the outskirts of my mind, I’ll get back to her opera.”
Beauty Intolerable will be the final presentation by ClaverackLanding. It takes place on Saturday, June 8th beginning at 6 pm at The First Presbyterian Church, Warren and Fourth Streets, Hudson. In addition to $30.00 General Admission tickets, $15 for students, the organization is also offering a $50.00 Reserved Seating and Artists Reception ticket, and a $150.00 ticket that includes the above along with a Private Tour of Millay’s Steepletop in nearby Austerlitz. The historic site has only been open to the public since 2010. Tickets can be purchased at www.ClaverackLanding.org.
Concerts and education programs of ClaverackLanding: Great Music in Great Spaces, are supported in part by Herrington’s, Hudson River Bank & Trust Company foundation, T.Backer Fund, JSL Computer Services, and many generous individuals and business sponsors.