The first recipient of the College of Arts and Architecture’s Agnes Scollins Carey Memorial Early Career Professorship in the Arts plans to embark on an international opera venture with unique ties to Pennsylvania. Ted Christopher, assistant professor of music and artistic director of Penn State Opera Theatre, was selected for the three-year position based on his proposal for a collaborative production of a new opera based on the life and times of Lorenzo Da Ponte, Mozart’s librettist, who lived for a time in Sunbury, Pa.
The goal of the endowed professorship, established by the children of Agnes Scollins Carey, is to help the College of Arts and Architecture compete for, support and retain outstanding scholars and practitioners in the arts in the early stages of their careers. Recipients receive up to $20,000 per year for three years to support innovative, groundbreaking research and creative activity.
According to Andrew Schulz, associate dean for research in the College of Arts and Architecture, selecting one recipient from the many worthy nominations proved difficult. “Professor Christopher's plans to commission and perform in a new opera is the kind of transformative endeavor that simply is not possible without the scale of support provided by the Carey Professorship,” he says. The project will have a significant impact on Christopher's professional profile, and on the opera program at Penn State. I can't imagine a better way to launch the professorship.”
The idea for the opera on Da Ponte’s life originated with Italian composer Roberto Andreoni, who visited Penn State in fall 2013 and met with faculty members from the schools of Music and Theatre, including Christopher. Andreoni proposed an opera/performance art piece that would include digital, graphic and virtual elements, both in the design as well as the composition. “I was intrigued and inspired as a director/producer—one who collaborates closely on creative endeavors—and as a performer—Da Ponte is a figure I feel close to, having participated in multiple productions of all three of his Mozart operas, Le Nozze di Figaro, Don Giovanni and Cosí fan tutte,” Christopher wrote in his proposal. “… [T]he possibility of immersing myself in them, from this highly original angle, was too good to pass up.”
When Christopher, who has been on the Penn State faculty since 2008, learned he was going to be nominated for the Carey Professorship, he asked Andreoni if he could turn his idea into a proposal for the purposes of his nomination packet. Christopher now has a creative team in place, with a goal of a performance tour and symposiums related to the opera in the spring 2017 semester. The creative team includes Andreoni, who will compose the piece; Susan Russell, a playwright and associate professor of theatre at Penn State, who will write the libretto; and Gerardo Edelstein, director of orchestral studies at Penn State, who will serve as music director. Christopher will serve as artistic director and perform the title role. The work will be scored for a small chamber ensemble and small cast of singers, to be selected from Penn State students.
Da Ponte’s life journey had five locations: Venice, Vienna, London, New York City and Sunbury, where he managed a grocery store. Ultimately, Christopher hopes to perform the opera at Penn State University Park; Columbia University, where Da Ponte taught Italian; La Fenice in Venice; and Vienna, the city of Da Ponte’s greatest artistic triumphs. Composition of the work will take place through spring 2015, with workshop rehearsals and revisions during the 2015–16 academic year, final revisions during the fall 2016 semester, and performances and symposiums in spring 2017.