Meet the Librettist: Mark Campbell
By: Angelica DiIorio
In 2012, Mark Campbell was working at an advertising studio in a windowless room in Long Island City, New York when he got an email that changed his life. While Campbell’s 2004 work creating the libretto for John Musto’s full-length opera Volpone had been praised, his career was not yet focused on music. That fateful day in 2012, he received an email informing him that Kevin Puts’ Silent Night, for which he wrote the libretto, won the Pulitzer Prize for Music. Writing lyrics and librettos had been an interest for Campbell, but this moment allowed him to fully embrace a career as a librettist.
The Road to Success
Campbell graduated from University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree from the Department of Theatre and Dance. He did not want to be an actor forever and began writing lyrics for musicals, but he was not sure about the direction musical theater was taking. Later, Campbell discovered a love for opera, but his impressive career of creating thirty-nine opera librettos, writing lyrics for seven musicals, and developing the text for six song cycles and three oratorios was not created overnight.
Soon after leaving his day job, Campbell worked with composer Kevin Puts again to create The Manchurian Candidate, which premiered with the Minnesota Opera in 2015, about the paranoia of post-Cold War America. Among his many works, he went on to win a GRAMMY® Award for Best Opera Recording for The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs in 2018 and received much praise the following year for Stonewall, an opera commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
“Language isn’t precious: structure and story are precious. Language is adaptable.” – Mark Campbell
Creating The Shining
In the middle of all his success, Campbell partnered with Paul Moravec to create the libretto for The Shining, which premiered with the Minnesota Opera in 2016. He explains in a note about the production he was apprehensive about using this story to create an opera. However, reading the book quickly dispelled any concerns as he saw its dramatic potential.
Part of the creation process of the opera involved getting the libretto approved by Stephen King himself. Any nerves or concerns surrounding receiving approval were quickly appeased, as Campbell received approval from King within twenty-four hours! The libretto’s success is no surprise as Campbell is meticulous with his wording. While writing the lyrics to a particular aria in The Shining, he was feeling unsure, so he wrote three different versions for Moravec to choose between. Campbell’s flexibility is best explained in his own words from an interview with Bachtrack: “Language isn’t precious: structure and story are precious. Language is adaptable.”
While we at Opera Colorado are excited to present The Shining, this is not the first libretto of Campbell’s we have produced. In 2017 we presented As One, an opera following the life of a transgender woman, which he created with composer Kimberly Reed. Experience part of this production in OC Archives: Kelly Markgraf in As One (2017).
The Road Forward for Campbell
Advocacy is essential to Campbell’s life and work. In April 2020, he partnered again with Paul Moravec to create Light Shall Lift Us, bringing together over 100 opera singers in a virtual performance to share hope and solidarity during the pandemic. Watch the performance>>>
Additionally, Campbell mentors young writers through projects like American Opera Projects, Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative, American Lyric Theatre, the University of Colorado’s New Opera Workshop, and Opera Philadelphia’s Composer-in-Residence Program. Through his work, we hope the up-and-coming librettists of today will be inspired to leave their day jobs and follow their passion, just like Campbell.
Now that you have met Mark Campbell, experience his work in action. Come see The Shining and hear the words of Campbell for yourself. Tickets on sale now>>
Have you heard any of Campbell’s other creations? What are your favorite pieces? Who are some of your favorite living American librettists? Let us know in the comments below!