About After Life & Josephine

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Opera Colorado’s double-bill of Tom Cipullo’s After Life & Josephine runs February 23–March 1, 2019. Tickets are sold out. For more information, including a wait list for tickets, click here.

To read synopses for After Life & Josephine, click here.


Composer’s Note: After Life

“A question conjured us. A question hangs in the dark…”

So Gertrude Stein remarks in David Mason’s libretto, and so the music goes on to insist. After Life is an opera more concerned with raising questions than answering them. The topics are weighty and ambitious; the role of art in a troubled world, the duty of artists in confronting inhumanity. Stein and Picasso return from the abyss to grapple with these issues, and I confess my own thinking on them evolved as I worked on the score. When recent events brought forth the images of black-garbed madmen executing innocents on the desert floor of the Levant, I initially thought that art was useless in such circumstances. Later, I began to reconsider, forming the opinion that the real value of art comes after such horrific moments, helping us, as individuals and as a culture, make sense of the incomprehensible. Only recently, I realized that it is often art that makes the moments themselves bearable at all. But still, how ironic that the art we revere can be such an ennobling force for so many, and at other times an inspiration to those who have abandoned their own humanity. As Picasso exclaims in one of the most dramatic outbursts of After Life, “The Germans were lovers of art!”

The composing of After Life presented a number of challenges. David Mason has called his elegant libretto a “tragicomedy,” and the delicate balance of these two sides was prominent in my mind as I worked. I allowed myself a bit of fun in incorporating quotes from Menotti’s The Medium when Gertrude Stein attempts to conjure Alice Toklas. In creating music for the fascinating, larger-than-life characters, I tried to capture Stein’s outsize ego and Picasso’s virility. Surprisingly, the character of the young orphan girl presented the greatest range of emotions. In her barely fifteen minutes on stage, she demonstrates calm, patience, sorrow, rage, resignation, wisdom, and grace.

After Life is dedicated to my colleague and dear friend, the brilliant composer Lori Laitman, and also to the memory of Lori’s mother, Mrs. Josephine Propp Laitman.

— Tom Cipullo
composer


Composer’s Note: Josephine

Josephine Baker was an acclaimed entertainer, a war hero, a wealthy businesswoman, an activist for civil rights, and a towering personality. As critic Michael Rogin noted in the London Review of Books, hers was “a triumphant career, honored by a full-scale military funeral, and yet it was contaminated at every major turn.”

And why should that life have been such a mix of triumph and disaster? What made her so mercurial, so volcanic, so alternately charming and volatile? That’s the question I pursued as I composed the opera.

In creating the libretto for Josephine, I was inspired by her own words. Indeed, the more controversial, more colorful statements are direct quotes. Musically, a snippet based on Bix Beiderbecke’s 1927 piano work, In a Mist, appears at several climactic moments in the score. In its Debussy-ish harmony and jaunty rhythm, the work seemed to me the perfect emblem of Jazz-Age Paris.

Jean-Claude Baker, often called the thirteenth of Josephine Baker’s twelve adopted children, wrote, “Josephine was like the sun. We need the sun for the flowers to grow, …but if you come too close, you can get burned, you can die. Everyone who came too close to Josephine got burned.”

— Tom Cipullo
composer and librettist

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