Bolcom's "View" on choral matters

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

On today’s date in 1999, the Lyric Opera of Chicago premiered a new opera by the American composer William Bolcom, based on “A View from the Bridge,” a powerful and very famous play by Arthur Miller.

Now, not all stage plays “translate” well into opera, as Bolcom was well aware: “In theater, you have the text and then below it you have the subtext,” said Bolcom. “In opera it is pretty much the opposite, the subtext is what you are really dealing with first and foremost: big, raw emotions, which are supported by the text. Not all of Arthur Miller's plays would make strong opera; but A View From the Bridge has a strong story that you can tell on one page."

In fact, Miller’s play, although set in Brooklyn in the 1950s, has often been likened to a Greek tragedy, a theatrical form in which the chorus plays an important role.

Bolcom saw that as a real opportunity: "If you are going to do an opera from a play, it better have a dimension that the play doesn't. In a play, you can't have your chorus speak at all because—practically speaking—it is financially prohibitive: as soon as the chorus opens up its mouth the price goes up because of actors’ equity. So, naturally one of the great resources of opera houses is an opera chorus, a resource you CAN use much more easily."