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Composer Daniel Felsenfeld, Director Beth Greenberg, and Principle Artist Emily Pulley on UrbanArias’ ‘She, After’

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UrbanArias’ She/After opens this Saturday, November 9th at Artisphere. It consists of two short operas: Nora, in the Great Outdoors (Music by Daniel Felsenfeld and Libretto by Will Eno)  [This moving and dramatic opera deals with the repercussions of Nora’s final door slam in Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House], and Alice in the Time of the Jabberwock (Music by Daniel Felsenfeld and Libretto by Will Eno). Composer Daniel Felsenfeld, Director Beth Greenberg and Principle Artist Emily Pulley.

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From Composer Daniel Felsenfeld

Composer Daniel Felsenfeld. Photo courtesy of UrbanArias.

Composer Daniel Felsenfeld.

From the time I was about seventeen I’d dreamed of making a short opera about Nora. I loved the play more than just about anything, but had always been fascinated by the burning question of what happened next? When something was that beautiful – be it Ibsen, Beethoven’s Ninth or Macbeth (my three big adolescent obsessions) I simply got angry when it ended and wanted to put it right. And of course, Nora, once she left, would have no choice but to sing. The outstanding soprano Caroline Worra (for whom the piece was written) was a brilliant Nora at the premiere.

When American Opera Projects introduced me to Will Eno, I knew, from our first meeting, that something excellent was there. And thus was Nora, In the Great Outdoors born. I could not be happier with Will’s libretto.

But Nora needed company, and so I sought out two other collaborators.  The first was Robert Coover, perhaps my favorite living novelist, whose book A Child Again contained the story “Alice in the Time of the Jabberwock.” He agreed to adapt it for the stage, and the results were also thrilling in an entirely different way.  And from this second piece, She, After became a reality. I love putting these characters next to one another – their similarities and their differences become palpable, hysterical, gorgeous and sad. And I loved writing music for both of them because I feel like I not only got to know them (on my own terms) but also to become them, to superimpose myself on them, or vice versa.  And Emily Pulley, as you will see, is another dream.

UrbanArias, under the visionary (a word I use sparingly save when it applies) direction of Bob Wood is the exact right venue for this production, and is also the exact right company to which attention ought to be paid. Top-tier talent working to modestly-scoped pieces is perhaps the most important thing to happen to opera since Wagner insisted on a pit and a proscenium, and please continue (as I’m sure you will) to watch them advance and grow and rise to any number of challenges. I am just happy that She, After is part of their ambitious trajectory.

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 From Director Beth Greenberg

Director Greenberg

Director Beth Greenberg.

In our program, She, After, we see Nora and Alice unlocking doors to new worlds, both real and imagined. Both literary women are so beloved that we immediately recognize them by first name only. We care about their lives. An unhappy marriage forces Nora to escape her comfortable home, husband and children, while Alice, with childlike abandon, journeys through a subconscious world of surreal dreams. But unlike the decisive Nora, Alice is “stuck” in a Wonderland where time has passed her by. Both are “questioning women,” leading examined lives bent on the discovery of truth.

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 From Principle Artist Emily Pulley (Nora and Alice)

Emily Pulley (Nora and Alice).

Emily Pulley (Nora and Alice).

I was delighted to be invited to be a part of this project, not only because I had heard such wonderful things about UrbanArias itself, but also because of the idea of exploring the “What happens next?” aspects of Nora and Alice. The first time I saw A Doll’s House, I remember thinking, “I know Nora couldn’t stay, but how can this possibly turn out well for her?” When she leaves, she is finally free, but she’s also trapped. She can go anywhere, but there’s nowhere for her to go and no escape from her conscience. Then we have Alice, who gets to live in Wonderland, a world of fun, adventure, and utter lack of responsibility. But she can’t get out, and she can’t escape the “Jabberwock” of growing old. So as disparate as these two characters may seem, one being constrained by societal mores and the other living in a world where there are no rules, they both have to come to terms with their powerlessness and decide how they will respond. We all face our own versions of these scenarios at different times in our lives, and I think it’s one of the reasons we are drawn to such iconic characters: we get to slam the door or go through the looking-glass with them, but we don’t have to live with their consequences or make the same choices afterward.

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She/After plays on Saturday, November 9 at 8 p.m.;Sunday, November 10 at 2 p.m.’Friday, November 15 at 8 p.m.;Saturday, November 16 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, November 17 at 2 p.m. at Artisphere’s Black Box Theater -1101 Wilson Boulevard, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (888) 841-2787, or purchase them online.

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