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Interview:
"The Grapes of Wrath" at Detroit Opera House, 3 Things to Know
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@medianewsgroup.com, @GraffonMusic on Twitte

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John Steinbeck's "The Grapes of Wrath" began life as a book, then a film -- both acclaimed as among the best in their respective fields.



And since 2007 it's been an opera as well.



The three-act musical adaptation of "Grapes" was composed by Ricky Ian Gordon and commissioned by the Minnesota Opera. It premiered just over 12 years ago in Saint Paul and has gone on to be performed around the country, including at Carnegie Hall in New York City and, in 2011 on the Michigan State University campus.



The piece has won its place in the canon of American operatic works, and starting Saturday, May 11, it begins a four-show run at the Detroit Opera House...



Michael Christie, who's conducting the Michigan Opera Theatre production of "Grapes," says Steinbeck's story is prefect fodder for the format. "I feel like it does capture all of the greatest aspect of opera -- there are arias, great stuff for the orchestra to play, just inherent drama in the story and Ricky is a great musical storyteller. I think like we would do with Puccini or Verdi or Mozart, every page has quintessential opera characteristics to it. As a conductor I don't have to work hard to force it to tell its story. It really unfolds and I get to actually shape it rather than try to wring something out of it."



Christie recalls that when word first began circulating about a "Grapes of Wrath" opera, there was a bit of skepticism -- but only a bit. "I don't think there was much head-scratching other than its scope or its scale is so large. There are just a ton of characters. I think a lot of opera companies looked at it and said, 'Geez, how do we get all of that to happen,' and also the sheer length of it. The book was epic. It's a lot to take in, a big, emotional journey. So just the scale, I think, was probably the most daunting aspect of it, originally. I think getting it into a just shy of three-hour total evening, including the intermission, was a wise thing."



Even though it's in a different form, Christie is confident "The Grapes of Wrath" opera is of a piece with the book and film that preceded it. "I feel like it's very connected to the film and certainly to the book. I feel like there’s a nice pathway from the book to the film to the opera. If anybody has experienced all three I feel like there's a really nice connection to them. With (the opera) it's all in the music, which is so great, especially for people who haven't heard recent American opera and aren't sure what they're up against. I feel like it's very visually evocative; You hear the music and you can really imagine the space and the atmosphere of the whole thing -- that big, sweeping Americana feel."



"The Grapes of Wrath" begins a four-show run at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 11, at the Detroit Opera House, 1526 Broadway St., Detroit. Subsequent shows are May 15, 17 and 19. $39-$175. 313-237-7464 or michiganopera.org.

Web Site: www.michiganopera.org

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