Mn Opera returns to Puts and Campbell for “Manchurian Candidate” commission

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The Minnesota Opera has commissioned Mark Campbell (l) and Kevin Puts to create an opera from the Richard Condon’s cold war thriller “The Manchurian Candidate” (MPR photo/Euan Kerr)

The Minnesota Opera is returning to the creative team behind the Pulitzer Prize winning “Silent Night” to commission an adaptation of the classic cold war thriller “The Manchurian Candidate.” Kevin Puts will compose the music for Mark Campbell’s libretto for the piece which will be premiered in May 2015.

Opera officials announced the commission at a preview of “Doubt” at the Guggenheim in New York. “Doubt,” which will receive its world premier in St Paul in January, “Silent Night” which won Puts the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in music, and “The Manchurian Candidate” at all part of Minnesota Opera’s New Works Initiative.

Speaking by phone from New York Kevin Puts says it was Campbell who suggested “The Manchurian Candidate.”

“I’ve learned that whenever he thinks something will work on the operatic stage then he’s right,” Puts said.

This will only be Puts’ second opera, and it’s more than 2 years until the curtain rises for the first time. Campbell is already developing the libretto and will deliver the first act early in the new year. Puts says he won’t begin to put notes down on paper until that draft arrives.

“I am trying really hard not to have any preconceptions about what I might want to do, or how it has to be,” he said.”I really leave that to Mark. I trust him and his understanding as to how things work on the stage.”

Despite that he will admit to having had some ideas.

“I just can hear a certain kind of sound, a musical sound for the piece. And I just imagine a very fast-paced relentless kind of drive with a dark propulsive energy moving through it. So I really had a sound in my head. Of course once I get the libretto that could all change.

Richard Condon’s novel about a member of a prominent US family being brainwashed to become a sleeper assassin for a Communist conspiracy has already appeared on film twice. The 1962 John Frankenheimer directed adaptation starring Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury is considered a classic.

The novel came out in 1959. Puts says he’s unlikely to try to capture the music of the era.

“I certainly didn’t do that with “Silent Night.” In fact the music is stylistically just sort of all over the place, and I just went where it felt right for me. So I guess I am not planning on do something that is of the period in terms of the style of the music.”

“It’s a very dark story,” he continued, “but I am interested in finding the moments of beauty and human connection within that, because those will be the moments that will I think be most interesting for me, to try to search for the those moments.”

“Silent Night was somewhat like that although there is a lot of beauty in that story but you are still in the trenches and its grim. And I think I like that kind musically I like that challenge of finding beauty within a dark environment.”

All being well there will be a workshop on the first act in the fall of 2013, followed a few months later with a workshop for act 2. A full orchestra workshop in late 2014 will precede the premier in March 2015

“It feels like it’s right around the corner,” laughed Puts. “It may not be but it feels that way to me.”

Minnesota Opera Artistic Director Dale Johnson says he’s delighted by the latest commission. In a statement issued over the weekend he said “I have long wanted to commission an operatic thriller.” Johnson says after what he described as “the incredible experience of ‘Silent Night’” he was keen to work with Puts and Campbell again.

“The Manchurian Candidate is an all-around match made in heaven,” he said.

Puts says he’s also very pleased to be returning to the Minnesota Opera after the experience of working on Silent Night.

“It just feels very warm and welcoming and a great place to bring to life a new project. i know what to expect,” he said.

Of course having won the Pulitzer last time does change things a little.

“To be honest for my next opera people probably will expect a lot more and I want to deliver. So I can’t think of a better place to work on my second opera than in Minnesota.”

You can watch the opening of the Frankenheimer movie below:

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