The Kennedy Center

Mark Adamo


In August of 2001, the name of composer/librettist Mark Adamo became widely known in musical circles when his opera on Louisa May Alcott's famous coming of age, Civil War-era novel Little Women was performed on PBS's "Great Performances." For an essentially unknown composer's maiden operatic effort to receive such attention a mere three years after its premiere (albeit at the illustrious Houston Grand Opera) is and was virtually unheard of, and for this attention to be accompanied by the Ondine record label's commercial release of a double-CD set is a young composer's pie-in-the-sky dreams. When all of this happened, when his first opera quickly became a repertoire staple, Adamo was not yet 40.

Since its astonishing beginning, Little Women has been performed over 20 times by opera companies great and small. December 2003 saw the Mexico City premiere, and in 2005 the New York City Opera took the piece on tour as part of their first-ever appearances in both Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan, as part of the World Expo. In 2004, Lyric Opera Cleveland engaged Mr. Adamo as a stage director for their production of Little Women, the start of a flowering side-career. The Adelaide Art Orchestra, State Opera of South Australia and State Theatre Company of South Australia collaborate to present the Australian premiere in May 2007 with an all new production.

Of course, as a composer, Adamo was not full-sprung out of nowhere, nor has his success with Little Women been his last. He began in college, specifically Catholic University in Washington D.C. and at New York University. Desirous of a career on the Great White Way, he set out to become the world's most overqualified theater composer, studying counterpoint, orchestration, playwriting, directing, and acting. He produced songs, works for chorus, chamber pieces, and, most notably an extended orchestral work in 1995 entitled Late Victorians, scored for singer, speaker, soloists, and orchestra. The work, conceived as an AIDS memorial, weaves together a memoir by essayist Richard Rodriguez and the poetry of Emily Dickinson. The premiere performance of this work was by the Eclipse Chamber Orchestra, for which he served as composer-in-residence.

While his passion is clearly the theater, Adamo, with his penchant for fluid vocal writing, has been drawn equally to writing for a large ensemble of voices. His choral works include Garland, for the Young People's Chorus of New York; The Poet Speaks of Praising, for men's chorus and piano, commissioned by the GALA V festival; Pied Beauty, for unaccompanied chorus, commissioned by the Washington Singers; Three Appalachian Folk Tunes for soprano and unaccompanied chorus, commissioned by the Congressional Chorus of the United States; No. 10/Supreme Virtue for double chorus (on verses from the Tao te Ching); and QWERTYUIOP, for chorus and mad soprano (a Dadaist comedy on typewriter lessons). He wrote Canticle for the superstar vocal ensemble Chanticleer and Cantate Domino for the Choral Arts Society of Washington.

Houston Grand Opera commissioned Lysistrata, or the Nude Goddess (after Arisophanes, premiered in 2005 and revived by New York City Opera in spring 2006. In this work, Adamo elaborates his own prodigious theatrical capacities with a work that deals with a group of female protestors during the Peloponnesian wars between Athens and Sparta. Their plan: stop the war by denying sex to their husbands. This of course backfires (in ways both highly comic and darkly tragic) and stands, in this day and age, as an allegory about the bellicose ways in which nations solve their differences through violence.
In 2007, the National Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Leonard Slatkin, will premiere Four Angels, a harp concerto written as a valedictory work for Dotian Levalier, the NSO's principal harpist. As an administrator, Adamo's duties as the Composer-in-Residence at the New York City Opera included overseeing the innovative VOX series, an annual event where new American operas are given first readings by the NYCO orchestra and singers. Adamo is on the faculty of both New York University and at Lehman College. As a writer not only has Mr. Adamo written articles for The Washington Post, Stagebill, Opera News, the Newark Star-Ledger, and The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, but he has also penned a monograph about composer John Corigliano as well as contributed the verses to Corigliano's first cabaret songs, Dodecaphonia (or, They Call Her Twelve-Tone Rose), premiered by William Bolcom and Joan Morris. He also served as a Master Artist at the Atlantic Center for the Arts in May of 2003.

His music is published by G. Schirmer.

January 2007
Mark Adamo


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