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Posted by on Apr 26, 2011 in Articles | 4 comments

Fort Worth Opera to Perform Glass’ Hydrogen Jukebox

by Trevor Neal

The Fort Worth opera’s festival season this year sees literature from the standard repertoire but there is one odd ball in a season that maintains pretty “tonal” and “melodic” tendencies. Hydrogen Jukebox is an opera composed by Avant-garde composer Philip Glass and was first premiered in 1990 at the Spoleto Music Festival in Charleston, SC. The Spoleto production had six members in its cast, each one representing an American archetype. The purpose was to present a portrait of America from the composer and librettist point of view during the 1950s and 60s. The opera, based on poems by Allen Ginsberg, encompasses themes from these poems that can be described as “filthy”, “dirty”, and “obscene”. Now my intent is not just to inform you that this work is being performed but rather pose the question: Will this opera be welcomed with open arms? The time for minimalistic opera has come and gone in America, composer Jake Heggie obviously showed us this in his most triumphant opera which premiered at Dallas Opera in 2010. Sometimes there is a reason that operas have a premiere and are never done again. Nonetheless, I will continue to be the good opera patron that I am and attend the festival season to see this work and if you are in the area I suggest you do too.

MAY 24, 25, 26, 28M, 29 & JUNE 1, 2, 4M, 5, 2011

Contains adult subject matter; parental discretion advised.
A native of Dallas, Texas, baritone Trevor Neal is a favorite among audiences throughout the southwest United States. Mr. Neal has appeared in concert with the South Arkansas Symphony Orchestra, Phoenix Chamber Orchestra, San Antonio Symphony, and numerous community orchestras. Trevor is pursuing the Bachelor of Music degree in Voice performance at the University of North Texas where his opera credits include that of Colline in La Boheme, Dottore in La Traviata, and Figaro in Le Nozze di Figaro, a role which he reprised in his appearance with Spotlight on Opera Company of Austin, Texas. He has been under the baton of conductors such as Patrick Summers, David Itkin, Graeme Jenkins and coachings with acclaimed MET Tenor Richard Croft, Jake Heggie, and Stephen Dubberly. Trevor participated as a chorister in the World Premire of Jake Heggie’s opera Moby-Dick and will be returning to the Dallas Opera this season to perform in the much anticipated Royal Opera House revival production of Boris Godunov.

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  1. In my mind it is already a success because it was sold out pretty much the 1st week tickets went on sale. What other Opera gets sold out that quickly.

  2. @John Moby Dick

  3. Hi Trevor,

    I’m very glad you are coming to see Hydrogen Jukebox. As the Director and Choreographer of the production, I agree that it is unlike anything Fort Worth Opera has ever done!

    I do, however, have to point out that when you say the opera “encompasses themes from these poems that can be described as “filthy”, “dirty”, and “obscene”, the poems that Ginsberg and Glass chose for Hydrogen Jukebox do not include Ginsberg’s more sexually explicit material. The work is definitely informed by Ginsberg’s homosexuality, and the material is for mature audiences, but the opera explores many themes, including the endless cycle of war, fear of nuclear annihilation, political corruption, violence, religious extremism, capitalism, loneliness, strength of the self, intimacy (in a non-sexual way) and the cycle of life and death. I think this is all rather relevant for contemporary audiences.

    When thinking about why an opera hasn’t been performed much since its premiere, realize there are a lot of factors that can contribute to that, including less than traditional performing forces and the scale of a piece. There are a lot of great operas that would be done more often if the model under which opera is most often produced in the United States was more flexible – but that is another subject altogether… (and, is one that is fortunately being addressed by adventurous companies like Fort Worth Opera.)

    You are, of course, entitled not to be a fan of Glass or of minimalism, but it is very possible to love Heggie and Glass at the same time. That’s like suggesting one can’t love both Handel and R.Strauss, or Donizetti and Berg – it really doesn’t have to be an either or proposition! I think we are very lucky to be living in a time when new operas include works in so many different styles – from Heggie, to Glass, to Adamo, to Adams, to Davis, to Gordon, to Muhly… why should any of us have to pick just one?!

    Lawrence Edelson

    (for more information about Hydrogen Jukebox and contemporary relevance in 2011:

  4. I’m biased because I’ll be singing 2 different Glass operas this coming year. But I think it’s not an accurate statement at all to basically say that minimalism is dead. The Metropolitan Opera performs Phillip Glass and John Adams regularly, and so do many other companies around the world. Jake Heggie is an incredibly gifted composer, and Moby Dick was undoubtedly a triumph. But isn’t it possible for us to live in a world where several different styles of opera can still be performed?

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