New York-based stage director Beth Greenberg is in the midst of a fascinating career filled with interesting musical projects, some mainstream, some avant-garde, often staging opera in unique and unexpected locations. One of the most fascinating things about people in the opera world—whether they are singers, directors, conductors, or members any of the other countless professional disciplines that come together to produce opera—is that the path for each individual is truly unique. There is no one way, no particular course of study that leads to a career in opera. Each artist makes his or her own way, often taking full advantage of unexpected opportunities. Many can point to a seminal experience or “light bulb” moment where their destiny was determined.
Beth Greenberg, who will direct the professional premiere of Lori Laitman’s The Scarlet Letter for Opera Colorado in May 2013, shared a bit with us about her path that has led to this moment.
“I was always involved with music, from early childhood on, and played every instrument that came my way: oboe, piano, cello, guitar and drums.
I remember certain musical events where I really felt my world shifting. And when lyrics were added to the mix, I was a goner. One of these moments was when my 4th grade teacher stood at the blackboard and wrote: ‘the corn is as high as an elephant's eye.’ Hmm...intriguing...Then, she played the tune. That was a time when every NYC public school teacher knew how to play the piano.
The melody struck me like a thunderbolt. My fate was sealed. That outrageous poetic image, supported by such a daring and dangerously high vocal leap for the word ‘eye’ captured my mind and my heart. I didn't understand ‘why’ at the time, but I knew that was ‘it.’ As a result, I've never stopped believing that elephants roam around Oklahoma.
One musical pursuit led to another and I developed a keen interest in knowing how music worked. So in addition to performing, I studied music theory and ended up with a Master's from the University of Michigan. I even took a few composition classes along the way. Bill Bolcom was one of my teachers. (Ed.: Composer William Bolcom)
I returned to NYC and had various jobs in musical theatre, as well as some unusual experiences including a stint as Diana Vreeland's assistant at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That was another education, directly from the high priestess of 20th-century art and fashion. Vreeland had one of the most original and extraordinary visual imaginations, along with an impeccable work ethic.
Then the opera bug bit and I traveled to Berlin on a Fulbright and worked with Goetz Friedrich at the Deutsche Oper. Berlin was then the divided city, but also an extraordinary place for Americans. Berlin: the city of three great opera houses with two maddeningly contradictory political systems, all playing out their post-war ideals across a gray concrete wall. It was a period of intense musical, and also international, discovery.
Upon returning again to NYC, I landed a job as an assistant director at the New York City Opera. That turned into a 23-year career with the Lincoln Center company where I directed original main stage productions and revivals. It was a great run.
I met Lori Laitman in February, 2009, at a reception after a program I directed for Laurie Rubin's Musique a la Mode. The program included music of three other notable American composers: Lowell Liebermann, Gordon Beeferman and Paula Kimper. Lori told me she had written an opera and I asked her to send it to me. I listened to about 10 seconds of The Scarlet Letter, stopped the CD, and shot her an e-mail saying: ‘Truly wonderful. Call me immediately.’
And she did.
That was it. We've worked together, almost daily, ever since. And Lori has brought many of her extraordinary poets into my life as well, including David Mason, author of The Scarlet Letter libretto and their latest opera-in-progress, Ludlow.
Opera Colorado has put together an all-star cast of great American singers including Elizabeth Futral, James Valenti, Morgan Smith, Catherine Cook, Joel Sorensen and John Hancock, with Maestro Dean Williamson pacing the score. Lori, Dave, and I, thanks to the vision of Greg Carpenter and Brad Trexell, are grateful and thrilled to bring you The Scarlet Letter.”
Tickets are available now for the professional premiere of The Scarlet Letter, running May 4, 7, 10, and 12, at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. Order online or call 303.468.2030.