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Looking for opera inspiration

Works drawn from writings of such artists as Poe and T.S. Eliot are turning up on area stages. There are pluses and drawbacks to reshaping familiar material.

March 23, 2013|By David Mermelstein

Mitisek, in his 10th season at Long Beach, points to his company's recent production of "The Fall of the House of Usher" to underscore his point. "The obsessiveness of the main character fits with the obsessiveness of Glass's music, the constant repetition," he said. "It makes you uncomfortable, which is why I liked the combination of Glass and that Poe story. Of course, it depends on the story and the piece. I have also seen some examples where I thought a work was a much better story or play than an opera."

Douglas Cuomo seems to represent the future suggested by Copeland. Cuomo's opera "Doubt," which had its premiere in January but is not yet scheduled for the West Coast, is based on John Patrick Shanley's play of the same name. Though the play won a Tony Award and a Pulitzer Prize and was later turned into a movie starring Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Philip Seymour Hoffman, the composer insists that its fame neither encouraged nor intimidated him.

"If I feel like it's something I want to do, I don't worry about that other stuff," Cuomo said by phone from Brooklyn, N.Y. "I know that sounds naive or arrogant, but I don't think it's either. I'm dealing with the material, not with audience expectations. Also, I was working with John Patrick Shanley, who wrote the libretto. So if he's game to do it, then I am, too."

One thing Cuomo says he doesn't worry about — just as his predecessors probably didn't — is offending fans of the original material. "It's not like a movie, which millions of people see," he said. "Even a successful opera isn't going out into the world in that same way. I think a lot about how audiences are going to react to the shape of my music. But as for how they're going to like it, there's not much I can do about that. There are plenty of things I'm concerned about, but that's not one of them. Because once you're in, all you're concerned with is the doing."

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