March 2007 marks the fourth anniversary of this column originally titled Bumper Cars: The Steiny Road to Operadom. This year the Steiny Road Poet has something to show for those years and to celebrate—a forthcoming book based mostly on the column and feature essays published in Scene4 Magazine. This hard copy book is called The Steiny Road to Operadom: The Making of American Operas.
The book—a blend of memoir, American opera history, and how-to—tells the parallel stories of Gertrude Stein creating opera with Virgil Thomson and Karren LaLonde Alenier creating opera with William Banfield. It also explores the story of new opera in America with an appendix list of recordings and a half dozen reviews and features on selected American operas. The book contains Alenier's libretto Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On and a chronology of the events leading to the world premiere of the Alenier-Banfield Stein opera. Nancy Rhodes, the director that helped Alenier and Banfield develop and premier their opera, provides the preface. Her story of meeting Virgil Thomson and how he became her mentor is pertinent to the story of opera in America.
Although the path for moving this book into publication has had many detours and ruts (the Poet asks why does every project she undertakes have to be so interesting?), many people have lent affirming support including Marilyn Gae Bass Weitzner (26 September 1946 - 28 December 2006), one of my editors for work published in Scene4 Magazine. I credit Marilyn, my sister-aunt, for launching me as a poet. I offer this poem in her honor:
for Marilyn Gae
The day before you died
my watch stopped 3:30 end
of the school day, a game
we played, you, a few months
older, teacher; our dolls: So
Wee—she wet her pants
with one drink from her bottle,
Emmett Kelly tramp clown
with his drunken red nose
and curiously big black
feet and me: your students.
The assignment to write
a poem, no idea what
I wrote—that, the beginning
of me arresting time—stick 'em
up, remember my indigo cow-
girl skirt and vest fringed in white
strips? You, the pistol, said, write,
till I found an edge, the endless
boundary, mobius band hugging
my pulse, my reason
So it is with Marilyn standing beside me in spirit that I let the world know what other people working in the field have said about this book.
Karren Alenier's peripatetic The Steiny Road To Operadom is a must read for any librettist, composer, or opera aficionado in search of an inside look at the creation and performance of a contemporary opera.
Director of Opera Studies
Manhattan School of Music
The Steiny Road to Operadom is a fascinating look into the mind of American poet and librettist Karren Alenier. A must-read for anyone aspiring to write for contemporary American opera. A truly Stein'ian landscape of reflections, advice, interviews and objets trouvés from her creative journey starting in Tangier with Paul Bowles in 1982 until the complete production of Gertrude Stein Invents A Jump Early On in New York in 2005. Full of surprises and fun to read.
Dr. Frank Hentschker
Director of Programs
The Martin E. Segal Theatre Center
The Graduate Center, CUNY
Karren Alenier gives us a fresh view into the world of perhaps the most important writer of our time. She shows the rocky and fruitful collaboration of Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thomson through a wide range of scholarly sources and through her own process with composer William Banfield. The romantic myth of the artist alone crumbles in the glow of a community of artists, as does the myth of the blissful communion of collaborators, whether in 1930's Paris or New York in the twenty-first century. We see the awkward beauty of two operas conceived, born, and bred, and through the eyes and ears of the Steiny Poet, we can hear the music of language, and the language of music, all the more clearly.
librettist for James Sellars' opera, The World is Round
The Steiny Road Poet tips her cap to Arthur Meiselman, the zingaro editor of Scene4 Magazine, who has provided the kind of latitude and encouragement necessary to keep the Poet producing copy that both nourishes her need to write and provides something worthy of readership.