THE CONQUISTADORThe staging




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STAGING THE OPERA

It so happened that as Myron Fink was putting the finishing touches on the music score for The Conquistador, the Friends of Judaic Studies at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) was looking for an opera with a Jewish theme. They heard about Myron Fink and his work and asked him to present it at a meeting which Ann Campbell, the wife of San Diego Opera's General Director Ian Campbell, was to attend. Interested in the subject, she persuaded her husband to come to the meeting as well. He did, but only reluctantly, with plans to listen only to the first act.

"From the first bar, the music and the story bowled me over, and that day I made up my mind we would produce it."
- Ian Campbell

At the meeting, Myron Fink sat himself at the piano and deftly played the score. In the absence of proper singers, he croaked and chanted, stomped his foot, yelled and recited through the length of the opera. When he finished his "act", Ian Campbell was still there. As Campbell later put it, "From the first bar, the music and the story bowled me over, and that day I made up my mind that we would produce it." It was just what he was looking for, "an opera that spoke with a peculiarly American voice", one that fit within the concept of SDO's "North American Voices" project, with a story the audience could easily relate to.

And so The Conquistador was set for staging in the 1997 season. The libretto and score were sent to prospective singers, all of whom responded with unabated enthusiasm. The arduous process of producing a world premier soon began, each step a first time ever - from the copying of the musical score for each orchestra member, to deciding on the stage direction, set designs and costumes, educating the public, and fund-raising.

SDO's own Maestro, Karen Keltner had the honor of directing the music, becoming in effect a co-creator of the music. Wielding the baton, she and the orchestra gave the music life in time and space - for the world to hear in its resounding fullness for the very first time. Nothing could have thrilled the composer more.

For the stage direction, Campbell placed his bet on a woman of the theater - Sharon Ott, resident director of the Berkeley Repertory. It would be her first opera with a major company and she would be working with artists she had never worked with before. But she is no stranger to music herself - she was a music minor in college, plays the French horn, and she had directed Brecht/Weill works years earlier at Milwaukee's Skylight Opera Company.


"...Sharon Ott is a fantastic director because she does what directors are supposed to do. She creates context for you and then she lets you create. I have nothing but praise for Sharon Ott."
- Jerry Hadley

Needless to say, she rose to the challenge of The Conquistador - able to coax the best out of a formidable singing/acting cast and together with set and lighting director Kent Dorsey, costume designer Deborah Dryden and the rest of the stage crew pulled off an unarguably flawless production - an opera in 3 acts, 15 scenes with no scene-changing, only spectacular and very effective lighting effects.

Jerry Hadley, in an interview that appears elsewhere on these pages has only praises for her. Indeed, people are hopeful that this "first" opera will not be her last.



And that this first production of The Conquistador which sold out to a record audience on opening night and thereafter for three more performances will likewise not be its last.

Photo credit: Ken Howard, courtesy San Diego Opera

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The Making of the Opera

How it began    The Libretto   Donald Moreland   Myron Fink   Myron's Works  The Music   Karen Keltner
Cast     Creating the Role  The Staging   Set / Costumes


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