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April 6, 2009

TT: A ripping good show

Paul Moravec and I gave our first public presentation on The Letter last Wednesday night at Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study, where my operatic collaborator is wrapping up a two-year term as artist-in-residence. It was a multi-media extravaganza: we played a synthesized version of the first part of the opening scene, having previously kicked things off by showing the trailer for William Wyler's 1940 film of The Letter:

In the second half of the program, Paul accompanied the wonderful mezzo-soprano Rosalie Sullivan in an aria from The Letter, then demonstrated the opera's harmonic language by playing and analyzing excerpts from the score on the piano. For my part, I gave a blow-by-blow synopsis of the action, explaining along the way how we'd changed the Somerset Maugham play on which The Letter is based, and described how I wrote the text of the aria that Rose sang. We then spent a half-hour answering smart questions from the audience.

Many of the people with whom we chatted after the show said that they were surprised by how smoothly Paul and I interacted on stage. They were even more surprised when we told them that our presentation was almost entirely improvised. Truth to tell, I was a bit surprised myself by how easily things went--I prefer to speak from a written-out text--but Paul and I have appeared together so many times that we know how to give an impromptu joint performance that sounds as though it had been rehearsed. Needless to say, it also helps that we've spent countless hours talking to one another about The Letter in the past three years. At any rate, our maiden voyage went off without any visible hitches, and we're looking forward to doing it several more times between now and July 25, when The Letter opens in Santa Fe.

Only one thing went wrong, but it came close to being a show-stopper. Rose and I met at Penn Station that afternoon to catch a train to Princeton Junction. As soon as we sat down, I heard a faint sound that I unwisely ignored. A half-hour later I crossed my legs, felt a draft, looked down, and saw to my horror that I'd somehow contrived to split the inseam of my left trouser leg all the way from knee to crotch, in the process exposing part of a pair of maroon-colored underwear that Mrs. T bought for me last year. Rose, bless her, was kind enough to avert her gaze and refrain from laughing for the rest of the ride.

Not at all to my surprise, Paul was less tactful when he picked Rose and me up at the train station. He hooted all the way to the laundry where I got my pants sewed up, taking care to point out that my mishap reminded him of the following scene from The Pink Panther Strikes Again:

On the other hand, he did know where to get my pants fixed, so I forgave him.

Posted April 6, 2009 12:00 AM

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