What began as a commissioned opera in Boston, and which was shelved during a management shake-up, and what eventually turned into a 17-year odyssey for composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein, came full-circle Sunday, February 12, when their original work, Elmer Gantry, won two Grammy Awards.
The creative duo spent years traveling across the U.S. looking for an opera company willing to produce its world premiere before a chance meeting in St. Louis with John Hoomes, artistic director of Nashville Opera, at the Opera AMERICA New Works Showcase.
Hoomes was in the audience during the organization’s annual conference and heard a musical excerpt of Elmer Gantry which was featured along with several other new operas. Intrigued by the music and subject matter, Hoomes sought a meeting with Aldridge and Garfein to talk about their score and to discuss the possibility of staging the world premiere in Nashville.
After more than three years of close collaboration with Aldridge and Garfein, Hoomes was convinced that Elmer Gantry was ready for an audience. The three men cast the singers, hired a conductor, and invited artistic directors from opera companies throughout the United States to attend the first performances in November, 2007.
Florentine Opera ‘s William Florescu was one of those at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Polk Theatre for the world premiere, and he was so impressed that he invited Hoomes to direct a production of the opera in Milwaukee. Those performances at Florentine Opera were recorded by NAXOS and won Grammy Awards in two different categories: Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Engineered Album, Classical.
In their acceptance speeches during Sunday’s Grammy Award broadcast, Aldridge and Garfein thanked Hoomes, Carol Penterman, Nashville Opera’s president and CEO, and the company itself for being the first opera company willing to stage the work, and for believing in the opera from the beginning when others did not.
“I think it’s wonderful news that the brilliant new opera Elmer Gantry won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, because that clearly speaks for the merit and value of the opera itself,” says Hoomes. “Nashville Opera is very fortunate to have recognized the value of the work early on, and fought tirelessly to develop the opera and give it life. We are extremely proud of composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein, and of the masterpiece that they have created.”
Nashville Opera, Tennessee’s largest professional opera company, is among the most successful regional companies in the United States of America, and has presented three different world premiere operas since its inception in 1981. Mainstage performances are presented at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and play to over 17,000 people annually.
Nashville Opera’s extensive education and outreach touring program reaches over 30,000 students throughout Middle Tennessee. For details, go to www.nashvilleopera.org.
Pictured, at top, John Hoomes