A family affair

Opera To Go continues world premier of two one-act operas with Juneau ties

Posted: Thursday, December 17, 2009

This weekend, Opera To Go will continue its world premier of two one-act operas written by the parents of a local university professor.

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Courtesy Of Wade Rogers
Courtesy Of Wade Rogers

Performances of "The Gift of the Magi" and "The Last Leaf" - O. Henry short stories set to music by the late Michel Chordas, with libretti written by his wife, the late Nina Soudakoff Chordas - will take place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 3 p.m. Sunday at Thunder Mountain High School.

University of Alaska Southeast associate professor of English Nina Chordas, daughter of the contributing artists and OTG board member, said the productions are a wonderful example of the Juneau arts community coming together.

"I'm almost speechless," she said. "The singers learned their parts with really nothing to go on. The whole artistic endeavor is just mind-blowing to me."

Even Chordas' brother, Peter Chordas, came from his home in Moscow, Russia, to see the show last weekend.

"We were both just blown away by it," Chordas said. "Opera To Go is doing a wonderful thing producing a totally unknown piece like this. The whole family is just grateful that this is being done. My parents' collaboration is being brought to life by the Juneau arts community."

Director Roald Simonson said world premiers don't happen very often in the world of opera.

"It's often that you're doing battle with history, and productions that you mount compare with previous productions," he said. "That's part of the interest for opera fanatics is that they kind of compare statistics like sports fans compare statistics. But a world premier just doesn't have that. It's a rare occasion for us to be doing (this)."

Even the opera magazine "Opera Now" was attracted to the productions. Karyl Charna Lynn, feature writer and critic for the London-based magazine, will arrive in Juneau to cover the Chordas production for the international press.

But what makes this production special is that Chordas will get a chance to present about her father's experiences during World War II, escaping from Latvia, their family history, immigrating to the United States and his writing of the two operas.

"It's not only a world premier, but it's a very personal connection that we get to have here, through the Chordas family and through Nina being part of the community," Simonson said. "Michel Chordas has a tremendous life story."

Unfortunately, Michel Chordas died earlier this year and Nina Soudakoff Chordas died in 1991, so they were never able to see their works produced. Simonson said he is looking forward to bringing these pieces of music to life.

"It's really special for me and in particular for the Chordas family," he said. "It's so close to home. It's very appropriate and interesting to do a presentation of the biography of the composer in it. It's the right thing to do with this production."

The production also includes musical direction by W. Todd Hunt, set design by Akiko Nishijima Roch and Juneau singers including Tiffany Hanson, Wade Rogers, Brett Crawford, Cathy Pashigian, Eve Dillingham, Brett Crawford, Patricia Hull, Rebekah Grimes and Dan and Kathleen Wayne.

The operas are set in New York's Greenwich Village in the early 20th century. "The Gift of the Magi" is the story of a young husband and wife who each sacrifice their most precious possession in order to give each other the greatest gift of all. "The Last Leaf" tells the story of a young woman who has lost her will to live, and the aging artist who paints his masterpiece just for her.

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at kim.andree@juneauempire.com.

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