Dinner at Eight, a new comic opera by composer William Bolcom and librettist Mark Campbell and based on the play by George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, made its world premiere on Saturday, March 11, at the Ordway Music Theater, in a production by Minnesota Opera. Jump to photo slideshow of the production
The story is a Depression-era comedy of manners in which the wife of a once-affluent shipping magnate plans a society dinner for an assortment of wealthy or well-born acquaintances. Eventually, the guests' tangled and intimate connections to one another are revealed. The original play opened in 1932 on Broadway at the Music Box Theatre, and it inspired a star-studded film adaptation the following year. It has enjoyed two Broadway revivals; Bolcom's opera is its first musical adaptation.
"It is tremendously gratifying to present a comic opera, particularly by an American legend like William Bolcom," Minnesota Opera Artistic Director Dale Johnson says. "The Great Depression provided fodder for a multitude of artistic masterpieces, and Dinner at Eight by Kaufman and Ferber belongs in that category. The play is an ensemble piece, fast-paced and brilliantly witty, filled with extraordinary characters. These are ideal elements for an opera. Both William Bolcom and Mark Campbell straddle the classical and American popular styles, and I can't think of a better combination to bring this sparkling comedy, with its rapid-fire dialogue and hilarious situations, to the opera stage."
Pulitzer Prize- and Grammy Award-winning composer William Bolcom says, "What I've always loved about the play is its ability to merge humor and emotional depth. The opera has been high-wire balancing act for both Mark and me — we worked hard to find just the right tone. I think we've come up with something audiences will love."
"Dinner at Eight features marital infidelity, financial ruin, social opportunism, a fatal disease and a suicide. Naturally, it's a comedy," says librettist Mark Campbell, for whom Dinner at Eight was his fifth commission with Minnesota Opera. "It's also an incisive exploration into the impact of economically compromised times on the American class system — which is very much a part of the New Works Initiative's goals in exploring distinctly American themes. With Dinner at Eight, Bill and I have fused the best traditions of musical theater with those of opera to create a contemporary work that brings out both the light and the dark in the brilliant Kaufman/Ferber play."
American soprano Mary Dunleavy, Minnesota Opera favorite Brenda Harris and baritone Stephen Powell star in this fast-paced and brilliantly funny ensemble piece.
Listen to Dinner at Eight on Thursday, Oct. 12, at 8 p.m. on Classical MPR.