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  • The Santa Fe Opera’s Life Is a Dream
  • A. Robert Lauer

On 24 July 2010, Lewis Spratlan’s opera Life Is a Dream had its world premiere at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico. It is the fourth operatic work based on Pedro Calderón de la Barca’s play in the past 104 years. As Luciano García Lorenzo indicates (335), in 1906, Cristòfor Taltabull staged in Figueras (Gerona) an operatic version of La vida es sueño. On 14 January 1943, at the Teatro San Carlo in Naples, Gian Francesco Malipiero debuted La vita è sogno. This work would be subsequently staged at the Breslau Opernhaus on 30 June 1943 (Maione 550). On 18–19 July 2003, Tomás Marco presented at the Corral de Comedias in Almagro Segismundo, «Opera de bolsillo» (García Lorenzo 335). Finally, between 1975 and 1978, Lewis Spratlan composed the music for Life Is a Dream, a three-act opera based on a libretto by James E. Maraniss. Originally, this work was meant to be presented at the New Haven Opera Theatre, but the company dissolved before that became a reality (Dyer 70–71). The second act of Spratlan’s concert version of Life Is a Dream was presented on 28 January 2000 at the Amherst College Buckley Recital Hall and on 30 January 2000 at Harvard University’s Paine Hall. J. David Jackson was the guest director for the Annex Music Ensemble of Massachusetts. The work obtained the Pulitzer Prize in Music in 2000 and a check for $5,000 USD. The full operatic version of this work, sung in English, would be staged 10 years later and 35 years after its inception. In 2010 it was staged five times at 9:00 PM in Santa Fe: on 24 and 28 July, and on 6, 12, and 19 August; the tickets cost between $27 and $194 USD (Keller 53).

The opera consisted of ten principal actors and 20 additional personnel. In addition, 40 technicians were at work. Leonard Slatkin conducted the musical composition. Kevin Newbury was the director, David Korins the scenic designer, Jessica Jahn the costume designer, Japhy Wiedeman the lighting designer, and Susanne Sheston the chorus master. The production was underwritten by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with additional support from The National Endowment for the Arts, and numerous donations from private individuals. The main singers were John Cheek, a bass, in the role of Basilio; Canadian heldentenor Roger Honeywell, in the role of Segismundo; James Maddalena, baritone, in the role of Clotaldo; Ellie Dehn, soprano, in the role of Rosaura; Keith Jameson, a buffo tenor, in the role of Clarín; Craig [End Page 155] Verm, baritone, in the role of Astolfo; and Carin Gilfry, contralto, in the role of Estrella. Additional singers were Darik Knutsen, baritone, as the First Servant; Thomas Forde, bass, as the Second Servant and First Soldier; and Heath Huberg, tenor, as the Second Soldier. The chorus consisted of 20 members.

The opera was 158 minutes long, with a fifteen-minute intermission. The first act lasted exactly one hour. Acts 2 and 3 were joined and together took 83 minutes to perform. The music for this opera was atonal. Lewis Spratlan, although a great admirer of Monteverdi, Mozart (especially Don Giovanni), and Wagner, preferred the rigorous twelve-tone compositions of Arnold Schönberg, Anton Webern, and Alban Berg. In an interview for the The Santa Fe Opera 2010 Season, the composer declared that “I think of Berg as someone watching over my shoulder for this piece, largely through the influence of Wozzeck” (68). Atonal music in this case, of course, made Life Is a Dream timeless and, subsequently, universal. Not unsurprisingly, the opera and James E. Maraniss’s libretto omitted references to Poland and any geographically recognizable place (except for a reference to Rome, “in her triumphal age” [Life 39; 3.3]). Hence, the lines wherein Rosaura states that «Mal, Polonia, recibes a un extranjero» (Calderón 86; 1.17–18) became in Maraniss’s rendition “Harshly, new land, do you greet this stranger” (Life 1; 1). Within the serial music of Life Is a Dream, however, one found certain set pieces (dances...


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