Monday, February 17, 2014

Happy Birthday, Lee Hoiby!!!

Composer Lee Hoiby and Barihunk Benjamin Curtis
Lee Hoiby was born in Madison, Wisconsin on February 17, 1926 and died on March 28, 2011. He was one of America's most prominent composers of works for the lyric stage. He was introduced to opera by his teacher at the Curtis Institute of Music, Gian Carlo Menotti, who involved him closely in the famed Broadway productions of The Consul and The Saint of Bleecker Street

Hoiby's first opera, The Scarf, a chamber opera in one-act, was recognized by Time Magazine and the Italian press as the hit of the first Spoleto (Italy) Festival. His next opera, Natalia Petrovna (New York City Opera), now known in its revised version as A Month in the Country.

Two excerpts from Lee Hoiby's Summer and Smoke:

Among Hoiby’s operatic works are the one-act opera buffa Something New for the Zoo (1979), the musical monologue The Italian Lesson (1981, text by Ruth Draper) which was produced off-Broadway in 1989 with Jean Stapleton, and a one-act chamber opera, This Is the Rill Speaking (1992, text by Lanford Wilson, adapted by Shulgasser). Hoiby was a long-time collaborator with Brooklyn's American Opera Projects, having held a chair as Mentor Composer on AOP’s Composer and the Voice program for two seasons. 

Listen to Benjamin Curtis perform Lee Hoiby's Private First Class Jesse Givens Lee Hoiby and
Five poems of Walt Whitman at 22:35:

Hoiby's contribution to the art song repertoire includes over 100 songs, which are performed by many of the greatest singers worldwide. The great American soprano Leontyne Price introduced many of his best known songs and arias to the public. His musical idiom displayed a grateful acceptance of the rich legacy of melodic homophony, embracing references from Monteverdi to American blues without sounding eclectic or piecemeal.  

His best known works for baritone are "I Was There, 5 songs for Baritone and Orchestra, after Whitman (1995)" and "Last Letter Home," for men's chorus. The Whitman songs are set to  Beginning My Studies, I Was There,  A Clear Midnight,  O Captain! My Captain!  and Joy, Shipmate, Joy!. The latter is Hoiby's 2007 musical setting of Pfc. Jesse Givens' note home to his family before perishing in Iraq. It has become one of the most performed contemporary works for baritone.

The next performance of one of his operas will be Summer and Smoke at Florida State University on May 23 and 24.

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