Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Sunday, May 13

Beach at the opera

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1995, an opera by the American composer Amy Beach received its first professional production at Lincoln Center in New York City – 63 years after Beach completed it – in the summer of 1932.

Beach was 65 years old at the time and for years had wanted to write an opera on an American theme. She finally found a suitable subject in a play written by her friend Nan Bagby Stephens, a writer from Atlanta who specialized in southern subjects. Their operatic collaboration was entitled “Cabildo,” after the famous prison in New Orleans where the pirate Pierre Lafitte was imprisoned during the War of 1812. Stephens even supplied Beach with authentic Creole songs and dances to incorporate in her score.

Beach had a concise one-act opera finished by August of 1932, but it was never staged during her lifetime. Both the Depression and the outbreak of World War II postponed various attempts at a staging. Sadly, when an opera workshop at the University of Georgia in Athens finally got around to an amateur production in 1945, Beach had already died.

The manuscript of the opera remained unpublished for decades, but with the passage of time, interest in Amy Beach as America’s first great female composer led to the Lincoln Center performance in 1995, conducted by Ransom Wilson and preserved on a Delos
CD.

Music Played in Today's Program

Amy Beach (1867 – 1944) Cabildo ensemble; Ransom Wilson Delos 3170

Additional Information

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