Composers Conrad Susa and John Tavener; translator William Weaver.
Springdale, PA, April 26, 1935 —San Francisco, CA, November 21, 2013
The composer's most performed work for the stage was his first opera, Transformations. Based on Anne Sexton's 1971 book of poems that evoked the fairy-tale world of the Brothers Grimm, Susa's opera had its world premiere at Minnesota Opera in 1973. Subsequent Transformations productions included a 1978 PBS telecast of a Minnesota Opera revival and stagings by Spoleto Festival USA, Aspen Opera Theater, New York Opera Repertory Theater, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, the Merola program, Juilliard and the Wexford Festival. Among Susa's other operas was The Dangerous Liaisons, which had its world premiere at San Francisco Opera in 1994, with Thomas Hampson, Frederica von Stade and Renée Fleming heading the cast, and was later televised on PBS.
Susa was educated at Carnegie Tech and Juilliard. He wrote incidental music for several Broadway productions, including the APA-Phoenix stagings of Right You Are If You Think You Are (1966) and Exit the King (1968). A longtime resident of California, Susa was composer in residence at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego (1959–94). In 1988, Susa joined the faculty of San Francisco Conservatory, where he remained a professor of composition at the time of his death.
London, January 28, 1944 — Dorset, England, November 12, 2013
One of the few classical composers of his era to win genuine popular appeal, Tavener was educated at the Royal Academy of Music in London, where his teachers included Lennox Berkeley. His first successes were his dramatic cantatas Cain and Abel (1966), which won the Prince Rainier Award, and The Whale (1968), based on the Old Testament story of the prophet Jonah, which was given its premiere at the inaugural concert of the London Sinfonietta at Queen Elizabeth Hall. Tavener's 1969 Celtic Requiem was admired by Benjamin Britten, who recommended that Covent Garden commission Tavener to write an opera. The result was Thérèse (1979), a one-act work about St. Thérèse of Lisieux, a nineteenth-century Carmelite nun, which received mixed reviews. Tavener's subsequent works for the stage included the chamber opera A Gentle Spirit (1977), based on a Dostoyevsky story; St. Mary of Egypt (1992); and the monodrama The Death of Ivan Ilyich (2012), based on Tolstoy's novel.
Tavener's greatest successes were choral or orchestral works written for the concert hall rather than the opera house. His music reflects his lifelong fascination with human spirituality, as well as his particular interest in the Russian Orthodox church. (Raised in a Presbyterian family, Tavener converted to Orthodoxy in adulthood.) Tavener's first breakout "hit," as it were, was The Protecting Veil (1988), a forty-three-minute composition for cello and strings created at the suggestion of cellist Steven Isserlis, who played its world premiere at the 1989 Proms. Tavener's best-known work was Song for Athene (1993), a four-minute elegy for four-part choir that was performed at the 1997 funeral service for Diana, Princess of Wales, and which has been recorded several times. Notable large-scale Tavener works from his late career included the seven-hour Veil of the Temple (2003) and the song cycle Schuon Lieder (2004).
Tavener was knighted in 2000, in recognition of his services to music.
Washington, DC, July 24, 1923 — Rhinebeck, NY, November 12, 2013
Universally recognized as the preeminent translator of modern Italian literature, Weaver was responsible for the best-selling English-language version of Umberto Eco's Name of the Rose (1980) and for translations of dozens of works by Giorgio Bassani, Italo Calvino, Oriana Fallaci, Primo Levi, Elsa Morante, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Luigi Pirandello, Ignazio Silone and Italo Svevo, among many others, as well as librettos of operas by Verdi and Puccini.
Weaver contributed articles on opera and on Italy to many magazines and journals, including TheNew York Times and OPERA NEWS, occasionally appeared as a guest commentator on the Metropolitan Opera radio broadcasts and served at various times as a correspondent for Opera and London magazines. Weaver's own books include a biography of Eleonora Duse (1984), Puccini: The Man and his Music (1978) and The Golden Century of Italian Opera from Rossini to Puccini (1980). He also coedited The Verdi Companion (1988) and The Puccini Companion (2000).
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