for orchestra (2011)
26, 28 April 2012
Benaroya Concert Hall, Seattle, WA
Seattle Symphony Orchestra / Gerard Schwarz
I. Apostrophe to the Stars
II. In the Ready Room
IV. Why Fliers Fly
Amelia, an Opera in Two Acts and Six Scenes, was commissioned by Seattle Opera and premiered in May 2010. The story concerns a first time mother-to-be, whose psyche has been scarred by the loss of her pilot-father in Vietnam, who must break free from anxiety to embrace healing and renewal for the sake of her husband and child. The original story unfolds over a 30-year period beginning in 1966. Amelia interweaves one woman's emotional journey, the American experience in Vietnam, and elements of the Daedalus and Icarus myth to explore man's fascination with flight and the dilemmas that arise when vehicles of flight are used for exploration, adventure, and war.
Apostrophe to the Stars begins with a Lullaby sung by lost naval aviator father Dodge to his nine-year-old daughter Amelia at the beginning of the opera. Fusing the Lullaby melody with the character of Amelia, the music serves dramaturgically as a bridge between the first two scenes of the opera by tracking her emotional and psychological development from the age of 9 to 39 in an increasingly complex set of variations (all from Amelia’s point of view) on the tune.
In the Ready Room is a simple rondo (ABABA) where the A sections further the development of the Amelia Lullaby (as though from Dodge’s perspective in Vietnam) and the B sections explore Dodge’s inner psychological state there. The music forms a segue between the second scene of the opera, set in the States, and the third, set in Vietnam.
Sortie carries the action between the moment when Amelia collapses at the end of the first scene of the second act to the moment she is revealed, in the hospital, at the beginning of the second. It is in three parts. During the first part, a manic, brutal fugue, her mind interprets her ride in an ambulance to the hospital as one of her father’s sorties over Vietnam. During the second part, ostinatii she associates with her emotional avatar Icarus, an S-O-S Morse code rhythm she associates with missing her father, and the sound of a heart monitor trace her passage through triage. During the third part, she is alone, unconscious to the world in her hospital bed but alive in her own feverish thoughts, her Lullaby running through her head mixed with the roiling ostinatii of her sub-conscious mind.
Why Fliers Fly is in two parts. Both are meditations on loss. The first half consists of the prologue to act two, and the second consists of the postlude to act one. Both are further developments of the Lullaby, first from the point of view of the lost Flier Amelia Earhart (another of Amelia’s avatars), and second from the point of view of her lost father Dodge.
Ayreborne bridges the action between the instant that Amelia regains consciousness at the end of the second scene of the second act, through the various stages of labor, to the moment that her baby is delivered in the third scene. The music is all Earhart’s; Amelia has taken it on as her identification with her namesake’s courage, joie de vivre, and readiness to embrace life’s risk becomes complete. In the opera, the orchestra drops out at the moment her child is born and a cascade of melismas flower from the voices. Here, the orchestra explores the frozen moment of heavenly E major before settling into the opera’s pensive postlude based on the Lullaby.
Daron Hagen discusses the impetus behind the interludes:
— Daron Hagen, 2011
The evening began with an assured world-premiere performance of "Five Sky Interludes" from American composer Daron Aric Hagen's "Amelia," a Seattle Opera commission. Akin to the "Sea Interludes" Britten drew from his "Peter Grimes," this roughly 25-minute orchestral recycling should afford useful currency in the concert hall to music of broad expressive range and compelling inspiration. [Seattle Symphony, conducted by Gerard Schwartz.]
— Bernard Jacobson, The Seattle Times, April 27, 2012