A Distant Love: Songs of John and Abigail Adams
At the historic Old Stone House in Park Slope, Brooklyn
Saturday evening, October 25th
(The Adams’ 250th wedding anniversary!)
Baritone – Robert Aaron Taylor
Soprano – Elizabeth Dabney
I’m very excited to be a part of this project! The piece has only had a few performances, but this one will take place on the 250th wedding anniversary of John and Abigail Adams!
I recently met with the composer, Gary Fagin, and sang through a short section of the music with him. It’s always exciting to work directly with the composer, and it’s a rare treat for someone who specializes in opera. The composition is modern, but very approachable. The vocal line has a shape and lyrical flow that reminds me of Ralph Vaughan Williams.
I’m looking forward to meeting with the librettist, Terry Quinn, this coming week to discuss the inner workings of the characters as he has envisioned them through his poetic setting of their letters. I suggest you read his notes on Channeling John and Abigail, but I’ll paste a few of my favorite phrases for those who don’t click the links (I hope he will forgive the hack-job I’ve done to condense his process):
…all sorts of minor details necessarily change in the process of adaptation … due to the exigencies of meter and euphony. However, what needs to survive at all costs is John and Abigail’s unshakable spirit…
…you begin with six to eight months of research. You read every available letter John sent to Abigail and vice versa, all the while annotating those you find particularly compelling…
While one has only to read a handful of the full letters to sense the depth of John and Abigail’s devotion to one another, the implied heat is seldom permitted to rise to the surface. In the realm of music theater writing, this is a distinct problem…
And so, at critical points in your libretto you write ballads. Where you can, you fold in snatches of direct quotes, but you go beyond them … You trust that you’ve lived long enough with these two astonishing personalities that you can now, in a sense, channel them.
I’ll also find out more about his plan for this particular production. They call it a “Dramatic Song Cycle.” My guess is that it will be semi-staged, possibly with period costume, but with the intimacy of a salon recital. At least I hope so… that sounds like fun!
The portion of A Distant Love titled “John Adams in Amsterdam: A Song for Abigail” was commissioned as a separate work, in 2004, by the John Adams Institute. It received its premiere performance at Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw on April 13, 2005, with Queen Beatrice of the Netherlands in attendance.
The 1780s were breakthrough years for the string quartet. Thus, it seemed appropriate to accompany John Adams in Amsterdam with a string quartet.
The score is predominantly lyrical, almost romantic, befitting John Adams’ heartfelt affection for his Abigail, though at times the music is infused with an American folksiness reflecting his rustic and forthright nature.
As Abigail was struggling to survive in the midst of an active conflict, her life was more fraught with drama than was John’s life in Europe. Thus, for Abigail, the music has more contrast, ranging from militaristic rhythms to intensely personal lyricism.