Ever wonder how composers choose a story for an opera? Here’s one answer, courtesy of the American composer Tobias Picker:
“My sister was dusting her bookshelf in 1998, and a copy of Emile Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin fell off. She picked it up, read it and then recommended it to me for my next opera.”
And so it came about, some three years later, that on today’s date in 2001, that the Dallas Opera premiered a new opera entitled Thérèse Raquin, with music by Tobias Picker.
Zola’s novel is a rather clinical examination of adultery, murder, and a double suicide. “The novel,” said Picker, “exudes ‘opera’ from every page. Everything about it is operatic.” In Picker’s musical setting, traditional harmonies spiral off into atonality, just as the ordered world of the opera’s characters gradually falls apart.
Picker has written successfully in both styles, so combining the two in his new opera was a natural process. “That tension has always been there in my music,” says Picker.
“I think the opera made some people uncomfortable,” said Picker following the Dallas premiere. “There’s so much negative wish fulfillment and guilt. It affected people strongly and in different ways. One woman came up to me at the third and final Dallas performance and said: ‘I just love this. It’s the third time I’ve seen it.’ Perhaps she had experienced the same catharsis that I had when I composed it!”