The Garden of the Finzi-Continis

New York City Opera, January 2022

Flying Over Sunset

On Broadway
Previews Beginning November 11, 2021
Opening on December 13, 2021
Book by James Lapine
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by James Lapine

Produced by Lincoln Center Theatre
Choreographed by Michelle Dorrance
Music Direction by Kimberly Grigsby
Scenic Design by Beowulf Boritt
Costume Design by Toni-Leslie James
Lighting Design by Bradley King
Sound Design by Dan Moses Schreier
Orchestrations by Michael Starobin

With Carmen Cusack, Harry Hadden-Paton,
Erika Henningsen, Jeremy Kushnier,
Emily Pynenburg, Michele Ragusa,
Robert Sella, Laura Shoop, Atticus Ware,
Tony Yazbec, Aria Braswell, William Conlin,
Danny Gardner, Kate Marilley, Tony Roach, Michael Winther



“FLYING OVER SUNSET’ Sometimes what’s most exciting is what’s least known. And few shows have arrived on Broadway as little known as “Flying Over Sunset,” which opens at the Vivian Beaumont Theater on April 16. Not only is it a new musical but it’s also an entirely original one, with no precursor movie, novel, cartoon or play to give it shape and curb appeal. Whatever it is, it will have to succeed on its own. Which is not to say it has no names attached; it’s dripping with names. You may have heard of its three main characters, for instance, all hanging around Hollywood in the mid-1950s: Cary Grant, debonair movie star; Clare Booth Luce, ambassador and congresswoman; Aldous Huxley, British intellectual. Or the three inside-Broadway actors who play them: Tony Yazbeck (“On the Town”) as Grant, Carmen Cusack (“Bright Star”) as Luce, Harry Hadden-Paton (“My Fair Lady”) as Huxley. Then there are the names backstage. The music is by Tom Kitt (“Next to Normal”), the lyrics by Michael Korie (“Grey Gardens”), the book and direction by James Lapine (“Sunday in the Park With George”). I am sure the prop master is illustrious, too. So what are all these promising names promising? I’m happy not to know much more than that the three main characters, each of whom experimented with LSD at the time, in Lapine’s fictional world share trips together. The characters sing only when they’re high; with any luck, that’s how they’ll leave the audience, too.”

–Jesse Green, The New York Times, February 26, 2020

“Years before Timothy Leary popularized psychedelic experimentation, LSD found a home in Hollywood. Lysergic acid diethylamide—then legal—was used in elite circles during the 1950s, employed in hush- hush psychiatric treatments. Flying Over Sunset, a new musical at Lincoln Center Theater, uses that relatively unknown history to tell the story of three public figures in crisis, not the hedonistic excesses usually associated with psychedelia.

Written and directed by three-time Tony-winning scribe James Lapine with Tony-winning composer Tom Kitt and Tony-nominated lyricist Michael Korie, Flying Over Sunset imagines a shared acid trip between Hollywood leading man Cary Grant (Tony Yazbeck), conservative politician Clare Boothe Luce (Carmen Cusack) and novelist and early LSD enthusiast Aldous Huxley (Harry Hadden-Paton). In real life, each used the drug in the 1950s: Grant entirely committed himself to the new psychotherapy, (re)-reinventing his life, Luce discovered the treatment from her friend Gerald Heard (Robert Sella) and, in 1954, Huxley authored the now famous psychedelic text, The Doors of Perception, each turning to LSD for deep introspective help. But “it’s not about the drug,” said Korie in a recent Building Broadway interview with Beth Stevens. “It’s about sunset. It’s about reaching that time in your life when you’ve had accomplishments, where you’ve had disappointments, and you’re not yet complete.”

Lapine first began work on Flying Over Sunset after reading a 2010 Vanity Fair article that exposed LSD’s journey into the lives of nearly 100 luminaries. Psychiatrists, the article narrated, began employing LSD-25 in psychoanalysis after the U.S. Army and the C.I.A. discovered the drug could be used as a truth serum. For Lapine, that most of these Hollywood somebodies, privately in turmoil, operated publicly in (perhaps) the same circles offered an intriguing project.

“What I like about these three very accomplished, very brilliant people, was that they felt unfulfilled,” Lapine said. “They turned to the drug to find out more about themselves. They were not youngsters, you know. They were mid-career and mid-life. Each had a crisis point in their lives, and it wasn’t taken frivolously. Huxley really was upset when Leary made it a social event to take LSD, because he never thought of it that way. He thought of it as a kind of serious undertaking.”

The musical, almost dreamlike in nature, follows Grant, Luce and Huxley as they drop acid to explore the recesses of their memories, haunted by lost loved ones and figures from their past. “It starts in the early afternoon or late morning,” said Korie. “They each take the drug, different doses, and then it starts kicking in differently for each of them. They get giddy. They get crazy, and they start hallucinating. By then, it’s sunset and they’re looking at the sunset over the Pacific Ocean.”

At that moment, the metaphor at the heart of Flying Over Sunset—not of cruising high over Hollywood on new-age psychedelics, but of approaching the second half of one’s life—comes into focus. “Trying to understand the world they live in spoke to me,” Lapine said. “What are they going to do next? Cary Grant quit the movies. Clare Booth Luce had resigned as the ambassador to Brazil, and Aldous Huxley’s wife, with whom he’d been joined at the hip for 30-odd years, had passed away. Each of them were at a juncture in their lives trying to figure out what their next chapter was going to be,” he said. “That appealed to me, because, I guess, I felt the same way.”

Flying Over Sunset marks the first musical from Lapine in nearly 10 years. He is perhaps best known for his writing and directing partnership with composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim on Sunday in the Park with George (1983), Into the Woods (1987) and Passion (1994), as well as his 1992 collaboration with William Finn on Falsettos.

Lapine has a knack for telling achingly human stories, whether it’s an obsessive pointillist painter or a flawed fairy tale character. Flying Over Sunset is no different, said composer Kitt. “I knew it was going to be about deep human issues,” he said, “and that LSD was going to be a vehicle to probe, to question and to look at hard truths, the way Into the Woods isn’t about fairy tales.”

In this way, Flying Over Sunset isn’t so much about LSD as it is about using the drug to crack open the inner lives of its characters. This is “why you want to write musicals,” said Kitt. “You want to go into an imaginative, creative world—something that’s going to challenge you and demand the most of your imagination, not knowing what each moment is going to be, but just knowing that anything is possible.””

–Michael Appler, Buzz, February 28, 2020

““During my LSD sessions, I would learn a great deal,” Cary Grant once said. In the late fifties and early sixties, when the drug was used as an experimental medical aid, Grant regularly took supervised acid trips at the Psychiatric Institute of Beverly Hills. (He once envisioned himself as a penis launching from Earth like a rocket ship.) “Flying Over Sunset,” a new musical by James Lapine, Tom Kitt, and Michael Korie, imagines a 1957 trip shared by Grant (Tony Yazbeck) and two other luminaries known to have dabbled in LSD—the ambassador Clare Boothe Luce (Carmen Cusack) and the author Aldous Huxley (Harry Hadden-Paton). Lapine’s production, for Lincoln Center Theatre, starts previews on March 12, at the Vivian Beaumont.”

–Michael Schulman, The New Yorker, March 9, 2020




Grey Gardens

Off-Broadway Production
Playwrights Horizons, 2006
Broadway Production
Walter Kerr Theater, 2006

Book by Doug Wright
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie

Directed by Michael Greif
Choreographed by Jeff Calhoun
Music Direction by Lawrence Yurman
Scenic Design by Allen Moyer
Costume Design by William Ivey Long
Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski
Sound Design by Brian Ronan
Orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin

With Christine Ebersole,
Mary Louise Wilson, Erin Davie,
John McMartin, Sarah Hyland,
Matt Cavenaugh, Bob Stillman,
Michael Potts, Kelsey Fowler

National Productions
Center Theatre Group, Los Angeles, 2016
Ahmanson Theatre
With Betty Buckley and Rachel York
Directed by Michael Wilson

International Productions
Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, Japan, 2009
Toho Productions
Directed by Amon Miyamoto
With Shinobu Otake and Mitsuko Kusabue

Melbourne, Australia, 2012
Arts Centre Playhouse
Directed by Roger Hodgman
With Pamela Rabe and Nancy Hayes

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2013
Powell Hall
Directed by Wolf Maya
With Suely Franco and Soraya Ravenle

London, Great Britain, 2016
Southwark Playhouse
Directed by Thom Southerland
With Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell
Produced by Danielle Tarento



“Wright and his collaborators, Scott Frankel and Michael Korie, have taken their cue from the Maysles brothers in portraying their multifaceted subjects with depth and dignity. Their show is a haunting account of lives derailed, a textured depiction of the warring, often simultaneous desires to wound and heal that characterize mother-daughter relationships, and a witty celebration of two defiantly maverick personalities… The high points remain unchallenged: Christine Ebersole’s ‘Revolutionary Costume’ and brilliant Act One closer ‘Will You?’; Mary Louise Wilson’s ‘Jerry Likes My Corn,’ a seemingly whimsical song that spins the most unlikely snatch of dialogue into a complex piece of character-and-conflict-building; Ebersole’s schizoid ‘Around the World,’ which lurches grippingly between bitter accusation and the sad imprisonment of memory; and her heartbreaking closing number, ‘Another Winter in a Summer Town.’ Performed on the first press night by Ebersole with tears streaming down her face, that song now segues into a superbly reworked final scene of piercing melancholy. In a Broadway arena that can be unaccommodating for ‘serious’ musicals, Grey Gardens is as boldly odd, original and beguiling as its subjects.”

— David Rooney, Variety, November 2, 2006

“Home, in the modern theater, is where everything hellish happens. Grey Gardens by this light must be the definitive modernist musical, the only one I can think of in which the house is the title character. The Beale women and their crumbling, cat-infested house are part of history. Grey Gardens fascinates, because like many modernist works, it upholds a tradition while simultaneously trashing it to hell and back, the tradition in this case being that of the old-style Broadway musical… Scott Frankel’s pastiche score, set to cunningly wry lyrics by Michael Korie, both invents and mercilessly parodies a world of ancient Tin Pan Alley tunes. Grey Gardens feels like a Broadway musical, a modernist musical that belongs on the street where modern playwrights built all those unhappy houses which inextricably open fourth walls.”

— Michael Feingold, The Village Voice, November 6, 2006

“The songs from Grey Gardens, with music by Scott Frankel and lyrics by Michael Korie, sustain a level of refined language and psychological detail as elevated as Stephen Sondheim’s. Grey Gardens is an artfully skewed variation on a traditional musical that belongs to the line that connects Mr. Sondheim with Kurt Weill…The score is a meticulously fashioned piece of musical theater that gains in depth the more you listen to it. The songs expertly integrate recitative and speech into a seamless narrative flow that never loses its verbal acuity. Mr. Korie’s rhymes are all the more impressive for being at once original and unforced. At the same time, they are packed with specific historical references… ‘Hominy Grits,’ a minstrel show number sung in vintage black dialect, wants to make you squirm even as you admire its gemlike craft. In the second act the music for Grey Gardens curdles into a kind of off-kilter American Gothic style, as the walls close in around the characters and their cats, and their minds wander. Their self-delusion and competitive symbiosis are rendered with clinical insight in the creepy ‘Jerry Likes My Corn.’ ‘Around the World,’ a ditty sung by Little Edie while ruminating in an attic filled with mementos, sticks to your mind like flypaper… As Little Edie looks back on her youth, when she was romanced (and then dropped) by the young Joseph Kennedy Jr., her imagination still lingers in the debutante dream world of her past:
          The pink paper lanterns
          Still twinkle in place.
          My young Navy hero,
          His tender embrace.
          That sapphire blue ocean…
          Oh, how can I face
          Another Winter in a Summer Town?
This beautiful song is quietly terrifying. Grey Gardens is a portrait of decay whose songs artfully mimic that process until you are left aghast at the waste and sadness of it all; it leaves you no exit.

–Stephen Holden, The New York Times, February 9, 2007

“Can a musical be hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time? Grey Gardens can. Here’s that shot in the arm for theater lovers who’ve been longing for something bold, haunting, and hypnotic to get lost in… The nuanced, compassionate book by Doug Wright never stoops to condescension of Baby Jane histrionics… And save a rousing cheer for the music of Scott Frankel and the lyrics of Michael Korie. In an era of jukebox musicals, here is an original score with the power to live in your head long after you leave the theater. Get the cast album, pronto. Wilson turns ‘Jerry Likes My Corn,’ a seeming throwaway about the simple joys an old woman takes in making corn for a handyman (the excellent Matt Cavenaugh), into a portrait in miniature of an entire life. And Ebersole is the best friend a song ever had, whether she’s caressing a ballad (‘Will You?’; ‘Around the World’), bringing down the house with laughter (‘Revolutionary Costume for Today’) or leaving you emotionally shattered with a final number, ‘Another Winter in a Summer Town,’ that sounds like a classic song in the making. Bob Stillman deserves a special shout-out as George Gould Strong, Big Edie’s gay accompanist, whose song ‘Drift Away’ brings depth to what could have been a stock character. Grey Gardens is more than a unique and unmissable musical: it’s a gift.”

–Peter Travers, Rolling Stone, November 6, 2006

“The quality and emotional oomph of this musical flows from a rare ability to move and provoke an audience on matters personal and existential. The show ponders the hell that unyielding parents can bring down on their dependent children and grandchildren, regardless of the resources at their disposal. It notes that happiness–in love, in life–may be a one-shot deal that vanishes forever. It reminds the rich and powerful that they might end their lives in depressing circumstances. And most important of all, it shrewdly and evenhandedly explores the way mother and daughter are locked for life, even if it’s to their detriment. In Grey Gardens, the deeply moving and exquisitely performed new Broadway show, their fall mirrors our deepest insecurities.”

–Chris Jones, The Chicago Tribune, November 3, 2006

“The tunes in Act One, by composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie, are light, elegant, witty in the Cole Porter and George Gershwin mode. Things shift for Act Two, with a score that is atonal, bitter, and distinctly sardonic. Frankel and Korie’s songs are gorgeous, with sharp, vivid lyrics… a literate, emotionally rich score.”

–David Cote, NY1, November 3, 2006

“An experience no passionate theatergoer should miss.”

— Ben Brantley, The New York Times, November 3, 2006


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New York Times Interview with Christine Ebersole

Charles McGrath/NY Times: “The Cat Ladies Sing”

War Paint

On Broadway
Nederlander Theater, 2017
Pre-Broadway Premiere
Goodman Theater, 2016

Book by Doug Wright
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie
Directed by Michael Greif

Produced by David Stone & Marc Platt
Choreographed by Christopher Gatelli
Music Direction by Lawrence Yurman
Scenic Design by David Korins
Costume Design by Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner
Sound Design by Brian Ronan
Orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin

With Patti LuPone, Christine Ebersole,
John Dossett, Douglas Sills,
Barbara Jo Bednarczuk, Patti Cohenour,
Mary Ernster, Tom Galantich,
David Girolmo, Joanna Glushak, Chris Hoch,
Mary Claire King, Steffanie Leigh,
Erik Liberman, Barbara Marineau,
Donna Migliaccio, Stephanie Jae Park,
Angel Reda, Jennifer Rias, Tally Sessions



“Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole, Broadway’s finest, in richly distinctive roles that play to their respective strengths… and their contrasting turns here are simply mesmerizing. If this review ends up unfinished, just assume I died and went to show-queen heaven. ”

–David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, April 6, 1017

“LuPone and Ebersole wrap their prodigious voices around a score by Scott Frankel and Michael Korie that rings with the kind of exhilaratingly brassy notes that match the chutzpah of their characters’ ambitions.  War Paint is a welcome reminder of old-school Broadway craftsmanship and of the offbeat subjects that musical minds can illuminate with surprising elegance… A major musical.”

–Peter Marks, The Washington Post, July 19, 2016

“The score filled with real theater songs {is} as good as Broadway gets. Frankel finds hundreds of inventive ways to use period pastiche, in this case ranging from operetta giddiness to Bernstein angst, to express the vitality of the women’s ambition and explore the undercurrents of their despair. Naturally, he writes to the gifts of his leading ladies, giving LuPone plenty of red meat and sharp angles and Ebersole a series of long-line arias that keep shifting keys as if unable to find a place to rest. The singing that results is almost too rich to be believed. And what a pleasure it is to be hit by the fusillade of classic (and accurate) Broadway rhyming with which Korie loads his lyrics. These are not just the fun, uptempo kind but the kind that bite with insight. In a sad, contemplative duet called “If I’d Been a Man,” he nails the eternal dilemma of the businesswoman in a nifty couplet: “A man can be an absent parent. / Stray the way a woman daren’t.” War Paint is studded with such irreducible observations.”

–Jesse Green, Vulture, April 6, 2017

“This is a musical whose beauty is far more than skin deep. It not only explores the psyches of two “outsiders” who refuse to be denied, but captures the enduring discrimination rooted in gender, social class and age. And it traces the evolution of a major industry, along with all the shifting attitudes about female beauty, workplace opportunity, and marketing and media trends that went with them.  The classic tension between career and romance faced by women hellbent on making a mark is crucial here, as is the particularly high price in loneliness paid by those who pursue the kind of success men tend to take in stride. The warping (and simultaneously inspiring) effect of cutthroat competition is in play throughout. And the matter of legacy — a big theme in “Hamilton,” too — is here very much attuned to how it plays out for women.”

–Hedy Weiss, Chicago Sun Times, July 18, 2016

“The show is a demonstration of offbeat theatrical craftiness. We are treated to a barrage of clever parallelisms that depict how much these two very different women had in common, until the climactic scene when they wind up in the same dressing room as accidentally-paired guests of honor. The heavily melodic score finds ingenious ways of pairing them in mutual contemplation — the duet “If I’d Been a Man” is only the most obvious opportunity, as each considers what it would be like to have their ambition go unquestioned.  Their final duet, “Beauty in the World,” only confirms what we have seen all along. They are peas in a pod, rivals who never would have worked so hard, achieved so much, without the competition of the other. It’s a satisfying ending to a richly rewarding show.”

–Steven Oxman, Variety, July 19, 2016

“The claws are out in War Paint — and boy, are they perfectly lacquered.  The musical tells the gripping story of Rubinstein and Arden’s careers, warts and all.  Because of their impenetrable rivalry, every scene save for the finale involves either LuPone or Ebersole commanding center stage. At times, they share the space and sing the same lyrics, and it’s a true treat for the audience when the stars’ velvet voices harmonize. The music is strong…the lyrics are impactful, particularly the LuPone-Ebersole ballad “If I’d Been A Man,” which, incidentally, is sure to hit close to home for Hillary supporters.”

–Catilin Brody, Entertainment Weekly, April 6, 2017

War Paint comes from the same talented creative team behind Grey Gardens. Their work here is accomplished, even impeccable. Frankel proves himself a crackerjack adept at silky period pastiche in songs that evoke the changing popular styles of the 1930s into the 1950s; Korie’s well-wrought lyrics ripple with clever rhymes (who knew so much mileage could be had from cascading jokes about mascara and blush and concealer?); and Wright supplies his own tartly acidic view of the hate-hate relationship between the two reigning queens of the makeup table.”

–Charles Isherwood,  Broadway News, April 6, 2017




Vanity Fair Article by Amy Fine Collins

Variety Article by Gordon Cox:  “How War Paint Depicts a Rivalry Not a Catfight”

New York Times Feature on Patti LuPone & Christine Ebersole

Far From Heaven

Off-Broadway Premiere, 2013
Playwrights Horizons
Preview Production, 2012
Williamstown Theatre Festival

Book by Richard Greenberg
Music by Scott Frankel
Lyrics by Michael Korie

Directed by Michael Greif
Scenic design by Allen Moyer
Costume Design by Catherine Zuber
Lighting Design by Kenneth Posner
Sound design by Nevin Steinberg
Orchestrations by Bruce Coughlin
Music Direction by Lawrence Yurman

With Kelli O’Hara, Steven Pasquale,
Isaiah Johnson, Nancy Anderson

National Productions
Porchlight Music Theatre
Chicago, 2016

SpeakEasy Stage Company
Boston, 2014


“As the music swells in orchestrator Bruce Coughlin’s gorgeous tribute to Nelson Riddle, Cathy suggests Raymond ask her to dance. It’s an electrifying moment, drawing together all the best powers of the musical theater and all the particular threads of this unusually fine example of the genre. [Far From Heaven] is full of the pleasures of a century’s worth of song, not used as pastiche, but as characterization of the individuals and their normative milieu. The score is completely fresh, often heartbreakingly lovely, and sometimes terrifying… Well, there’s not much like Far From Heaven in recent musicals at all. The singular achievement of Far From Heaven is to have turned so much seriousness—so much fury and pain—into so much songwriting beauty.”

–Jesse Green, Theater Critic, New York Magazine

Far From Heaven is actually pretty close to heavenly. It’s smart, sophisticated, and a perfect vehicle for Kelli O’Hara’s soaring voice and endearing stage presence. The transporting, potent show has an elegant diversity of music by Scott Frankel. Thoughtful lyrics by Michael Korie sensitively express the characters’ turbulent inner emotions…A dark aura of repressed sensuality alternates with scenes of suburban placidity. Quiet introspective numbers are mixed with fuzzy, funny ones like ‘Marital Bliss,’ a cocktail fueled discussion by women about how often they have sex. A would-be romantic vacation in Miami features a wonderful, Latin-tinged nightclub number as closeted gay men exchange longing glances during ‘Wandering Eyes.’ Difficult emotional journeys are beautifully rendered in Far From Heaven, and the musical is profoundly effective.”

–Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press,  June 2, 2013

“The most important part of any musical is the score. And Far from Heaven — about prejudice and repressed desire in 1957 Connecticut — boasts a gorgeously lush and evocative score. Composer Scott Frankel and lyricist Michael Korie easily topped their Tony-nominated work from Grey Gardens. The songs are not just well-crafted, but tuneful, too:  You’ll leave with the haunting ‘The Only One’ firmly lodged in your head. One song in particular, ‘Tuesdays, Thursdays’ captures Cathy’s disillusion as she looks back on her perfect world. ‘Promises I put my faith in,’ she sings, her heart crumbling.”

–Elisabeth Vincentelli, New York Post,  June 3, 2013

Far From Heaven is far from your typical Broadway musical. Much of it is sung through, at times verging on operatic. And who better to articulate this off-kilter, angst-ridden drama than the Tony-nominated team from Grey Gardens. The piece is a sharply observed study of midcentury norms…Homosexuality is a disease to be cured and ‘Negroes’ must be kept in their place. Conformity, repression, and prejudice abound…The plaintive, jazz-inflected score illuminates dark corners of the characters’ souls.”

–David Kennerley, Gay City News,  June 3, 2013

“A profound and beautiful new musical…The music, lyrics and book are also stars of Far From Heaven. The show is nearly an opera with music often played under the small amount of dialogue. The melodic and sometimes jazzy songs are a vehicle for the story and they also convey character. The transition between dialogue and lyrics is seamless. The audience listened carefully to the lyrics because they are so revealing and insightful. The lyric, melodic songs allow Kelli O’Hara’s strong, nearly operatic soprano voice to soar.”

–Nancy Salz, The Berkshire Review,  July 24, 2012



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Further Reading

Boston Globe Interview

Advocate: Best NY Theater of 2013

New York Times Arts & Leisure

Opera News 

The Grapes of Wrath

Composed by Ricky Ian Gordon
Libretto by Michael Korie
Based on the novel by John Steinbeck

Premiere: Minnesota Opera, 2007
Utah Opera and Symphony, 2007
Pittsburgh Opera, 2008
Conducted by Grant Gershon
Directed by Eric Simonson
Choreographed by Doug Varone
Scenic Design by Allen Moyer
Costume Design by Karin Kopischke
Lighting design by Robert Wierzel
Projection Design by Wendall Harrington
With Brian Leerhuber, Deanne Meek,
Kelly Kaduce, Roger Honeywell,
Peter Halverson, Robert Orth,
Rosalind Elias, Jesse Blumberg
Andrew Wilkowske, Kelly Markgraf

Opera Theatre of St. Louis, 2017
Premiere of a New Performing Version

Conducted by Christoper Allen
Directed by James Robinson
Starring Tobias Greenhalgh,
Katharine Goeldner, Robert Orth

In Concert: Carnegie Hall, 2010
The Collegiate Chorale
American Symphony Orchestra
Conducted by Ted Sperling
With Jane Fonda as narrator,
Nathan Gunn, Victoria Clark,
Christine Ebersole, Elizabeth Futral,
Sean Panikkar, Peter Halverson,
Stephen Powell, Rochelle Nelson,
Don McComb, Matthew Worth,
Andrew Wilkowske, Stephen Pasquale,
Madelyn Gunn, Alex Schwartz



“The great American opera? The Grapes of Wrath might be it. Called ‘Verdi on steroids,’ at the premiere that assessment was wondrously born out of Gordon’s amazing and unusual score of monumental dimensions…The Grapes of Wrath is of epic sweep and of a mesmerizing grandeur that makes the audience participants in the Joads’ flight from Oklahoma to California in the depth of the Great Depression. It is the product of a collective of gifted artists… Librettist Michael Korie has stripped down Steinbeck’s 600 pages to a lean and sing-able text in verse that only occasionally rhymes and retains the speech patterns of the Okies. The score–without recitative–is song based and many scenes flow easily into the next. Despite the darkness and overt tragedy of their story, Gordon and Korie lower the curtain with hope… their story is not told; it is lived out with compelling immediacy before the eyes of the audience, who make the journey with them. Gordon and Korie have created a new–and American–song of the earth.”

–Wes Blomster, Musical America, February 13, 2007

“What a show! Opera Theatre of St. Louis has opened The Grapes of Wrath, a work by Ricky Ian Gordon and Michael Korie. I have never in my life been more emotionally moved by an opera than by this glorious production.  The Opera Theatre of St. Louis commissioned this newly “streamlined” version. It’s in two-acts, has a cast of forty and runs nearly three hours, so the original three-act, four-hour work must have been epic indeed. Be that as it may this current version is a work of remarkable beauty and power.  Michael Korie’s libretto is natural and colloquial and very true to the time and place. It’s also true to Steinbeck’s subtle but pervasive Old Testament flavor, which comes clearly through in names, phrases, images and themes.”

–Steve Callahan, BroadwayWorld, May 31, 2017

The Grapes of Wrath has teeth…Ricky Ian Gordon, working in tandem with his librettist, Michael Korie, has found ways to leave its rage intact, even as he gives lyric voice to the suffering Joad clan. The opera achieves its impact because it does not skimp on detail and preserves the hugeness of Steinbeck’s canvas. Brecht wanted to use opera as a kind of Trojan horse, to enter the palaces of upper classes and prick their conscience. Gordon, Korie, and the Minnesota Opera seem to have had a similar purpose in mind. ”

–Alex Ross, The New Yorker, March 5, 2007

“It’s rewarding to see the book’s earthy, oppressive storyline lent new life in this Minnesota Opera world premiere, which adheres closely to Steinbeck’s aesthetic and morality while extracting waves of beauty and transcendence along the way. The opera begins with a show of strength from composer Ricky Ian Gordon and librettist Michael Korie that is carried through the night: cast and chorus sing in starkly elemental terms of the final rain to fall upon the Oklahoma plains, followed by crushing drought. Gordon’s simple melody unfolds beneath Korie’s plain-spoken lyrics, describing the landscape that propels all the action to follow, until a final haunting description of the sere, blasted world of the Dust Bowl… Korie’s lyrics are almost perfectly matched to Gordon’s score. As the music ranges from high to low, Korie writes passages of piercing beauty, then follows with rhyming couplets that both ably tell the story and evoke the poetry of the characters’ tortured lives. He uses blunt, forceful words that elevate the work’s emotionalism by mixing fatalism with optimism until the opera begins to sing in the range of the universal… Perhaps the most evocative sequences of the evening arrives at the end of the second act, when Noah drowns himself. Korie writes a heartbreaking lyric; dry eyes are in short supply… One is tempted to take issue with the show’s length, at a fraction under four hours, but looking back, it’s extremely difficult to identify any passage as superfluous, any scene as extraneous. Gordon and Korie have produced a bit of a conundrum: a very long show about suffering and endurance that leaves the viewer enlivened. The intelligence and compassion of their work, combined with the evident vitality and belief of the cast in this opera’s merit, supply high emotion with depth and compassion. This is not a happy story, but its telling is nothing short of incandescent.”

–Quinton Skinner, Variety, February 16, 2007

The Grapes of Wrath represents a near-perfect match-up of composer, librettist, and source material.  Gordon is mercifully unafraid to show his gift for melody. Grapes gives most of the main characters distinctive numbers, and recapitulates them a lot so you remember them. Korie also does a virtuosic job of transforming a long and discursive book into an opera that manages to contain a lot of the flavor of the original without feeling like merely a recitation of its main plot points, in language that is very much his own.  The Opera Theater of St. Louis has made something of a specialty of having composers revisit works that had initial big successes but subsequently languished. It’s a valuable function, and I hope this shortened Grapes has a longer active life.”

–Anne Midgette, The Washington Post, June 19, 2017

“Composer Ricky Ian Gordon’s fluent, powerful setting of a great American novel, The Grapes of Wrath, has drawn critical raves and silenced many of the naysayers who bemoan the lack of another great American opera of the stature of Porgy and Bess.  Librettist Michael Korie took on the Dust Bowl novel at full worth, bypassing the upbeat philosophy that ends the famlus John Form film version in favor of the stark tragedy of the Steinbeck original. This Grapes of Wrath suggests a staying power. Partly it is the humility, the willingness of composer and librettist to let Steinbeck’s overpowering textual lyricism rest undisturbed. Maybe, this time, that creaky old institution known as opera really has turned a corner.”

–Alan Rich,, September 8, 2008

“This is a great American opera to stand alongside earlier evocations of specifically American periods and subjects by George Gershwin, Carlisle Floyd, Robert Ward, John Adams and others.”

–John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune, June 20, 2017

“Gordon and Korie have found the timeless and timely essence of Steinbeck’s epic. The Grapes of Wrath, with a strong, literate libretto by Michael Korie, is a success. It works not because it is true to Steinbeck’s style but because it honors his spirit… The political undercurrent of Steinbeck’s novel is not neglected. The Joad family’s journey to California is a tragedy because these people don’t understand the power of those who abuse them. Verdi seems Gordon’s and Korie’s model for showing the individual struggling against the system. Gordon and Korie are hope-seekers. Tragedy overcomes the Joad clan, but Gordon has a limitless reserve of song for them…The audience happily hummed the opera’s hummable tunes in the lobby during intermissions. As far as I was concerned, the nearly four-hour opera was too short. I would have gladly returned for more.”

–Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times, February 17, 2007

“Michael Korie’s libretto is sustained free verse, a treatment of the American vernacular, as sensitive and authentic as I’ve ever heard outside my native American South. Ricky Gordon’s music is an Ozark stream in the springtime, full of energy, muddy here, turbulent there, calm and sweet in crystalline pools that refresh the soul, but dangerous and deadly on the loose.  Fitted with virtuosity to the words of Steinbeck and his characters he created, and in a partnership with their often-balletic movement, the music takes on the shudders of melancholy and dread. It is synchronous, affectingly lyrical and, in the rich context of relationships with Thomson and Copland, an exultation of an indigenous and thoroughly American art. Through the course of the evening, it spills from stage and pit and attaches itself to a listener’s spirit. It is revealed to be, in the end, affectingly noble.  Nowadays, for operas, and really for any legitimate work of Art with a capital A, the industry of those who create it can no longer be a form simply to entertain us, and make us laugh, or cry, and to produce tunes one can whistle and hum while strolling into the darkness.   In the frisson of such magnificence as The Grapes of Wrath, it is sad to say, gentle readers, that it appears in 2017 we in the same rutted, misbegotten track, and only hard work and risk and sacrifice can save us.  But we cannot forget the power and the majesty of art as a sustaining force and as a source of hope and optimism. The Grapes of Wrath, on the page and as music in the air, is a harbinger of possibilities such as those, and as art so often does, revelations strike forcefully and come from sources we can only imagine.”

–Robert W. Duffy, St. Louis Magazine, June 1, 2017

“Distills the story to all the big moments strung skillfully together with well-defined character relationships and spare, meaningful dialogue. Thrilling choral moments lend an epic, almost cinematic sweep to the piece, elevating and ennobling the human suffering of the humble characters.”

–James Sohre, Opera Today, June 27, 2017


Further Reading

A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor: Interviews and Excerpts

The New Yorker: “Agit-Opera”

Harvey Milk

Opera in Three Acts
Composed by Stewart Wallace
Libretto by Michael Korie

Houston Grand Opera, 1995
Conducted by Ward Holmquist
Directed by Christopher Alden
With Robert Orth, Raymond Very,
Juliana Gondek, Gidons Saks,
Bradley Williams, Randall Wong,
James Maddalena,  Jill Grove,
Matthew and Kathryn Cavenaugh

New York City Opera, 1995
Conducted by Christopher Keene

Dortmund Opera, Germany, 1996
Conducted by Daniel Klayner
Directed by John Dew

San Francisco Opera, 1997
Conducted by Donald Runnicles

Melbourne, Australia,  2015
In concert, director Cameron Lukie



“Harvey Milk is one of the best new operas in years.”

— John von Rhein, Chicago Tribune

Harvey Milk  is an astounding achievement — lively, artful, tough-minded American music-drama, deeply satisfying to ear, eye and mind.”

–Mark Adamo, The Washington Post

“A triumph, mounted with an enthusiasm that is contagious. The opera has been warmly embraced by critics, opera lovers, and a very diverse and riveted audience.”

–Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times

“Powerful theater, alternately hilarious and moving. While the American musical wheezes its way toward extinction, American opera leaps and shouts.”

–Katrine Ames, Newsweek

“Like Harvey Milk the man, it’s a big-hearted, feisty, in-your-face kind of event. Michael Korie’s marvelous libretto is truly among the sharpest and most accomplished I have encountered in contemporary opera. Wallace’s score — a jubilantly eclectic mix of the American musical vernacular, both high and decidedly low-brow — powers us (bags of percussion) through times which are a changin’.”

–Edward Seckerson, London Independent

“This is a potent creation, inspirational as the subject demands. Korie’s stunning libretto, by turns haunting and hilarious, brassy and mystically poetic, is a magnificent creation. Harvey Milk is an opera for our time. And as for future generations, the hell with ‘em. Let them write their own operas.”

–Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

Harvey Milk is an unflinching in-your-face kind of opera, a work that examines not only Milk’s tragedy but the awakening of gay consciousness in America.”

–K. Robert Schwartz, The New York Times

“Nothing quite like it has ever been done before. For its aesthetics as well as its politics, the opera gets a standing ovation from me.”

–Peter G. Davis, New York Magazine

Harvey Milk is dynamic, polystylistic, sentimental, groovy, political and fun.”

–Andrew Clark, Financial Times of London

“Spellbinding…The opera remembers well and deeply, and now with a power that augers its own remembrance. It warrants playing in opera houses everywhere. One of the company’s highest achievements.”

–Timothy Pfaff, San Francisco Examiner

“The bravest contemporary opera of them all.”

–Lesley Valdes, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“Much of the work’s power resides in Wallace’s music. Milk and White each have effective arias, and there’s a wonderful love duet for Milk and his lover Scott. During the final scene, the opening lines of the Kaddish, the Aramaic prayer of praise recited by Jews in mourning, are set so radiantly that one wishes Wallace would set the whole thing as a stand-alone choral work.”

–Mike Greenberg, San Antonio Express News

“The music encompasses anger, triumph, and an unforgettable choral Kaddish for the slain. Christopher Alden’s production is phantasmagorically near perfect.”

–Leighton Kerner, The Village Voice

“An evening both savvy and snazzy. The second act is totally brilliant.”

–Alan Rich, Variety

“A remarkably frank portrayal — by turns unsettling, contentious and hilarious — of what it meant to be gay in America between the late 1940’s and the late 70’s.”

–Scott Cantrell, Kansas City Star



New York Times: A Gay Camelot Goes Home to Find It’s True

SFGate: “Welcome Home”

SFGate: “Harvey Milk Reborn”

SFGate Editorial “Harvey Milk Article the Opera”

Where’s Dick?

Composed by Stewart Wallace
Libretto by Michael Korie

Houston Grand Opera, 1989
Directed by Richard Foreman
Conducted by John DeMain
Designed by Richard Foreman

With Henry Stram, Angelina Reaux,
Joyce Castle, Randall Wong,
Cindy Benson, Wilbur Pauley,
Ken Jennings, Natalie Oliver,
Daryl Henriksen, Mary McClain,
Karen McVoy, Consuelo Hill,
Matthew Lord, Charles Workman

Opera Omaha Fall Festival, 1988
Directed by Anne Bogart
Musical Direction by Jeff Halpern

Playwrights Horizons Readings
Directed by David Warren, 1988
Directed by Robert Furmann, 1987


“Wallace and Korie’s collaboration both celebrates and mourns urban chaos. The musical materials are skillfully, often imaginatively, manipulated. American opera has usually made the bad mistake of building on other people’s cultures. Here, Mr. Wallace gives us a panorama of indigenous Americana. Luridness is typical of Korie’s black and witty libretto. Christmas is celebrated with ‘a little revenge.’ An extended set of ensembles turns sadomasochism into high comedy. Where’s Dick? is the type of musical stage work that we ought to be pursuing.”

–Bernard Holland, The New York Times

“A grisly comic book indictment of the American credo. Both grotesque and sublime, the show should splatter its blood on many another stage.”

–Leighton Kerner, The Village Voice

Where’s Dick? is a sassy, grotesque, funny, silly, merrily mean-spirited new opera that satirizes the sex and violence of modern society. Korie’s libretto is outrageous farce, a nightmare Bertold Brecht might have dreamed on a particularly bad night… a lineup of old-time comic book crooks but with a contemporary edge.”

–Mark Swed, The Wall Street Journal

“If Pee-Wee Herman’s Big Adventure had been scripted by Jean Genet, the result might have been Where’s Dick?…. which may well be the most cynically amoral opera since The Coronation of Poppea. Wallace’s music is a dazzling hybrid of minimalist technique and American pop idioms. Korie’s tale includes kidnapping, murder, intersexuality, sado-masochism, and pox-on-all-your-houses raspberries at religion, the law, capitalism and high society. This vision of total corruption is mitigated by a rather cheerful nihilism and an often brilliantly funny script. ”

–Mike Greenberg, San Antonio Express News

Where’s Dick? combines an Animal House sense of humor with the comic book level of political awareness that has resulted from eight years of Reaganism. This extremely contemporary piece is a welcome addition to the operatic repertoire. Where’s Dick? should continue to outrage audiences for years to come.”

–George Heymont, San Francisco Bay Area Reporter

Further Reading

“Two Operas You’ll Never See Performed at the Met,” Huffington Post



Composed by Stewart Wallace
Libretto by Michael Korie

New York Premiere, 1989
Produced by Dance Theater Workshop/
Brooklyn Academy Next Wave Festival/
New Music America Festival

Directed/Choreographed by Ann Carlson
Music Direction by Joshua Rosenblum
Lighting Design by Christina Giannelli
Sound Design by  John K. Erskine
Visual Design by Dee Wolff
Costume Design by Andrea Wallace

With Anny DeGange, Jerry Godfrey,
Consuelo Hill, Karen Holvik,
Lauren Mufson, Hugo Munday,
Wilbur Pauley, Michael Sokol,
Steven Tharp, Mimi Wyche

Concert Production, 1990
Three Rivers Festival, Pittsburgh
DiverseWorks/ Kaplan Theatre, Houston

Directed by Rhoda Levine
Conducted by Michael Barrett
Recorded by Koch Classics

With Evan Bowers, Jerry Godfrey
Karen Holvik, Edrie Means,
Alexandra Montano, Hugo Munday
Robert Osborne, Michael Sokol
Pamela Warrick-Smith, Randall Wong


“Kabbalah is notable for its placement of a spiritual tradition in the foreground, shifting the focus directly toward the challenge of understanding mystical ideas experientially.  Certain moments, the divine unfolding of creation, the cycle of sleep and waking, Zen-like flashes of cognition grounded in physical acts – tying shoes, dusting of surfaces, walking the roads of the Earth – and especially work’s culmination in a celebratory marriage feast – linger in mind, leaving a warm glow, like elements of a dim, deep language.  Kabbalah was satisfying on many levels.”

–David Raphael Israel, Ear, Magazine of New Music, March, 1990

“An unbroken 85 minutes of rituals as ten singers act out the passage of ten souls through the ‘seven gates of spirituality.’ Mr. Wallace and Mr. Korie carried out their collaboration with apparent seriousness and sincerity.  The characters sing and speak in Hebrew, English, Yiddish and Spanish, performing primordial tasks and undergoing cosmic tests – spreading earth on the ground, crossing a burning desert supporting each other – with earnest industry. Mr. Wallace’s music has a deft appeal…a production well worth seeing and a joint career well worth following.”

 – John Rockwell, The New York Times, November 20, 1989

“A musical experience that approximates a religious one.  The piece is an echo chamber of mystical notions.  Everything is intended to resonate with religious significance, from the ten singers – the quorum of Jewish prayer and, in this case, an emblem of God’s ten mystical attributes – to the piece’s seven movements beginning at the Gate of Creation and ending at the Gate of Sabbat.  The music is powerful, the libretto compelling, owing to the quality of the music and the intelligence with which the libretto has been crafted out of Jewish sources. How often is opera sung almost exclusively in Hebrew and Aramaic?  Phrases float up from the writings of the 13th century mystic Abraham Abulafia, from the Talmud, the Zohar:  ‘Rabbi Hiya and Rabbi Judah came to some huge mountains, in the ravines of which they found human bones left over from the generation of the flood.’  Implicit in this piece is an understanding that the modern eye, following the libretto, will tolerate the disjunction of meaning between sentences, just as the modern ear, hearing contemporary music, finds in dissonance a true echo of reality.”

–Jonathan Rosen, Forward, June 15, 1990

Kabbalah is a lustrous and often eloquent work by Houston composer Stewat Wallace and his scholarly librettist Michael Korie.  From the opening meditational chant based on the 72-letter name of the Infinite as written in Spain in the 1200s, to the closing measures in which the rabbinical voices echo the notions of reincarnation, this Kabbalah is simple in its structure, but hugely complex in its implications.”

–Ann Holmes, The Houston Chronicle, June 16, 1990

Kabbalah concerns souls wandering in the desert, suffering, dying, and then, because they have sinned, undergoing the misfortune of rebirth.  The audience is seated on two sides, with the opera between them – ten singers unroll a white floor-cloth to represent a dry riverbed.  On it they dump grain, struggle, go blind… at the end, in a fabulous stroke of theatrical poetry, they all tuck themselves in under the cloth and crawl into the earth.  If you didn’t know what ‘dust to dust’ meant before you saw this show, you would know afterward.  As a précis of a couple of millennia in the desert, the piece moved along relatively briskly.  The music was full of haunting effects:  a ram’s horn, congas, voices like devils and angels.”

–Joan Acocella, 7 Days, November 29, 1989

“Clearly, this is opera only in the most postmodern sense – but it’s a rewarding foray into the more arcane side of religious tradition, through the unlikely vessel of downtown New York cool.  Based on an array of texts from Jewish mysticism, Korie’s eclectic libretto blends lists and repetitive chants with snippets of narrative and theology. Wallace’s loose-limbed quasi-minimalist score is an endless storehouse of rich surprises.”

–Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle, October 6, 1991


Hopper’s Wife

Composed by Stewart Wallace
Libretto by Michael Korie

Long Beach Opera, California, 1997
Directed by Christopher Alden
Conducted by Michael Barrett
Set and Costume Design by Allen Moyer
Lighting Design by Heather Carson
With Chris Pedro Trakas,
Juliana Gondek, Lucy Schaufer

New York City Opera, 2016
Directed by Andreas Mitisek
Conducted by James Lowe
Designed by Sean Cawelti,
Ilkido Debreczeni, Susan Roth
With Elise Quagliata,
Justin Ryan, Melanie Long


Hopper’s Wife is not for everyone. That can’t be stated too strongly. Long Beach Opera warns its patrons that the production contains nudity, pornography, tobacco smoke, fog and gunshots. If that’s a problem stay away. If you hold Hollywood and its early icons–its Charlie Chaplins, Clark Gables, Eva Gardners–in high moral esteem, stay away. If it will spoil your appreciation of the powerful stillness and affectless emotion in Edward Hopper’s paintings to consider their creator a violent, drunken, vulgar, suicidal misogynist, you probably don’t need this. But if you want a notion of one possible direction for American opera into the next millennium, Hopper’s Wife needs to be your destination. It is not a particularly likable opera and certainly not nice, but it is brave, bold and important. Korie offers exciting images and horribly crude ones side by side; clever rhymes intentionally confuse smut with art…. Hopper’s Wife is an arresting attempt at the level of music, poetry and theater to grapple with one of the most meaningful issues in art today, namely how, in a postmodern age dominated by popular culture, can high art remain meaningful.”Press

— Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times, June 16, 1997

Hopper’s Wife… uses the troubled marriage of painters Edward and Jo Hopper to explore gender conflicts and the struggle between high and low art in contemporary American culture. Abandoning any pretense to biographical accuracy, composer Stewart Wallace and librettist Michael Korie use a peculiar kind of mythic-historic fantasy to heighten the allegorical dimension of Edward Hopper’s real-life domination of his bitter and frustrated wife…. Jo angrily leaves Edward, fed up with his womanizing and lack of support for her own painting career. She moves to Hollywood where, in the work’s most dazzling set-piece she transforms herself into another mythically resonant real-life figure: Hedda Hopper, the vindictive gossip columnist who egged on the witch-hunts of the McCarthy era. The quirky conceit broadens the scope of the opera beyond domestic squabbling and into an examination of Edward Hopper’s struggle to survive as a serious painter in a culture dominated by the crass mechanics of the Hollywood movie industry. With its odd and sophisticated premise, the production makes a case for opera as a genuinely adult art form, one able to confront and decry the current ‘dumbed-down’ state of American Culture.”

— Michael Duncan, Art in America, February 1997

“Here’s an American opera that does not stand as the latest feeble rewrite of either Puccini or Alban Berg, by creators who honor (as did Mozart, Verdi, and even Wagner) the notion that great opera is as beholden to the gods of entertainment as to high art, and have invented their own musical language and grammar to prove their point. May their tribe increase.”

— Alan Rich, LA Weekly, June 20-26, 1997

“Wallace and Korie, the team that wrote Harvey Milk, this time imagines an engrossing fantasy meshing real people of the 1940s with fictional lives: artist Edward Hopper, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper, actress Eva Gardner… The singers each delivered showpiece arias, backed by a surprisingly substantial instrumental ensemble of ten. Hopper’s Wife fills up 90 intermissionless minutes in a musical style of easy but pungent eclecticism.”

— Daniel Cariaga, Opera News, October 1997

Hopper’s Wife avoids the plodding chronology of many biographical operas by presenting a quintet of set pieces that focus on character and give each singer the chance to strut their stuff. The imaginative riff on two cultural icons of the mid-20th century made for an entertaining and engaging evening that augurs well for the new-old company’s role in New York’s musical life.”

— Susan Brodie,  Classical Voice North America,  May 2016

“It’s a wild concept that manages to incorporate three outrageously fictional  scenes: the suicide of Hopper (a la Norman Maine in “A Star Is Born”), the murder of Ava by Jo/Hedda, and the epic burning of Hopper works by Jo/Hedda (a la Manderley at the end of Hitchcock’s “Rebecca”) who feels that works showing her “posed like a two-bit stripper” would damage her moral standing.  Fittingly, the 90-minute chamber work closes with an end card (“The End”) that evokes Looney Tunes… It has taken Hopper’s Wife nearly 20 years to journey from California, where it had its premiere, to New York. It may have lost some of the shock value in the meantime, but it has lost none of its ability to draw an audience into its absurdities. And in our current political climate, this tale of reinventing oneself for venal personal ends seems more timely than ever.”

— Richard Sasanow, BWW Opera,  May 2016




Los Angeles Times: “Art, Artifice and Morality”

Los Angeles Times: “‘Hopper’s Wife’: Not for the Faint of Art”

Broadway Opera World: “A Wife for All Seasons”

Hopper’s Wife Libretto