FWO Archives: The Making of 'Frau Margot' (World Premiere, 2007 Festival)
Updated: Apr 6
INSPIRATION TO REALITY: THE MAKING OF FRAU MARGOT
Although the circumstances in the story of Frau Margot may seem far-fetched and detached from the ordinary life experience of most of us, they were inspired by true life events, or at least by the re-telling of similar events. Set in Amsterdam in the 1930s, this suspenseful mystery tale follows the story of a composer’s widow, who refuses to let her late husband’s final opera be completed, unless he offers permission from beyond the grave.
Many years ago, Frau Margot librettist Frank Corsaro had the fortune to work with legendary American composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein. According to Corsaro, "he told me about a venture, when he was a young conductor, conducting some big orchestra in Europe. While there, he went to visit Helena Berg, the widow of Alban Berg, to ask her about completing Berg's opera Lulu,which existed as a torso. He described being shown around the house, which was like a museum. Then she sat down with him afterward - she knew what he was there for - and said 'I understand. You will come back next Friday for breakfast, and meanwhile I will consult with Alban and I will tell you what he says.' He walked out asking himself how she would consult a dead man...and figured it must be through a seance. He later found out that was the truth. He went back a week later and had breakfast with Madam Berg, and then she said, 'Oh, by the way, Alban said no."' After doing more research on Berg, his wife and their life together, Corsaro found out that a possible reason that the widow Berg did not want her husband's work completed was because she was angry with him about his numerous extra-marital affairs. This combination of facts about the real life composer Alban Berg acted as a springboard for Corsaro's idea for the story of Frau Margot. But, it took many more interesting turns of event for the story to become the opera we are hearing tonight.
Listen to Frau Margo on Spotify HERE.
After eighteen years of highly successful work in film, Pasatieri again felt drawn to his first love, the operatic stage. He says, "...one of the things I did was rewrite Before Breakfast, because it was being produced in Long Beach. I called Frank and told him about it, and then said I was coming to New York - the Manhattan School of Music was producing The Seagull - and that I wanted to write another opera. There were several possibilities .." They decided on Frau Margot.
Just after Corsaro and Pasatieri had begun work on Frau Margot, the next inspiration fell on the project, interestingly enough, at a Christmas party held by soprano Ashley Putnam in December of 2003. In attendance were Pasatieri and Darren Woods, former General Director of Fort Worth Opera. Woods, always an admirer of Pasatieri's opera work, posed a question Pasatieri had heard many times before - "Are you ever going to write another opera?" "Well," says Pasatieri, "in all the previous twenty years, my answer always was 'No.' But this one time I said, 'Yes, as a matter of fact, I'm going to right now."'
"...while Tom and I both sing with great enthusiasm, few people are enthusiastic about listening to us. Fortunately, there is no recording of the two of us singing our way through Frau Margot."
-JOE ILLICK, CONDUCTOR
This short conversation began the process of bringing Pasatieri's comeback opera to Fort Worth. Soon, Fort Worth Opera Music Director Joe lllick joined the process when he met Pasatieri, Corsaro and Woods in Pasatieri's New York City apartment to hear Corsaro read the libretto. IIlick described the meeting: "For the first few minutes, Frank was reading dispassionately, as if he were testing someone else's work. As Darren and I became more and more involved and intrigued with the story, Frank Corsaro the playwright became Frank Corsaro, the actor. Suddenly he became each character, with nuance and passion in his voice. By the time Frank had finished reading the first scene, we were mesmerized."
After lllick and Woods were sold on the story, the process to putting it to music began. Pasatieri, always a quick composer, put together Act I in a matter of weeks. IIlick went back to New York to hear parts of the new score, sung and played by the composer himself. Acts II and Ill came together quickly as well, and when IIlick returned to New York to hear these, composer and conductor sang the parts together. lllick explains, "Like Tom, I am a composer, and like Tom, I love to write for the operatic voice. But while Tom and I both sing with great enthusiasm, few people are enthusiastic about listening to us. Fortunately, there is no recording of the two of us singing our way through Frau Margot."
Throughout the process of writing Frau Margot, both Corsaro and Pasatieri envisioned the lead role sung by Lauren Flanigan. Corsaro had first worked with the soprano at New York City Opera and had been impressed with her artistry. When she was finally approached about premiering the opera in Fort Worth, she was very enthusiastic about the project. Flanigan and Pasatieri had many discussions about parts of the score that could be highlighted by small changes. Pasatieri, being an opera composer that always wants the voice to sound its best, adapted the score to her suggestions.
Since the score was completed so quickly, Fort Worth Opera had the great advantage and opportunity to put together a cast of students from Seagle Music Colony in Schroon Lake, New York, to sing through the opera during August of 2005. The experience was one in which all parties involved with the opera, and even a few "outside" ears were able to see and hear the opera in rough form. The experience was invaluable, as Pasatieri explains, "Interestingly enough, even having written eighteen operas and hundreds of songs, one of the great things about this kind of workshop...is that it gives me the chance to hear everything, and to see if there is anything that could be better in the voice.That's absolutely fabulous, because you don't really know what it will be like until you hear it actually sung ."
Changes were made to the score after this workshop, including a significant revision of the end of the opera. As in any new piece of art,the final version of the opera will not be heard by anyone until the opening night performance. We at Fort Worth Opera hope that you, our audience, enjoy not only the performance but this unique opera premiere experience that began with a composer's story, a Christmas party and the collaboration of many.
Listen to an exclusive interview on KERA with Composer Thomas Pasatieri and Librettist Frank Corsaro here: https://www.keranews.org/post/fort-worth-opera-presents-its-first-world-premiere