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    Life is a Dream

    Life is a Dream_large


    Life is a Dream will be The Santa Fe Opera’s newest world premiere. Based on a towering masterpiece from “The Golden Age of Spanish Drama,” the opera by Lewis Spratlan explores provocative questions about the nature of perceptions and reality—and won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize in Music. Conductor Leonard Slatkin and director Kevin Newbury lead a cast that features Ellie Dehn, Roger Honeywell, James Maddalena and John Cheek in the leading roles.

    Performance dates: July 24, 28; August 6, 12, 19


    Composed by Lewis Spratlan
    Libretto by James Maraniss
    World Premiere

    Act I

    The opera’s hero is a prince, Segismundo, who must attempt to live in a world from which he was removed at birth. His father, Basilio, a pedantic and frightened king, interprets the portents at Segismundo’s birth to mean that the boy would become a violent and tyrannical ruler. In order to protect himself and his subjects, Basilio exiles the prince to a remote wilderness tower, there to be educated by Clotaldo, a nobleman, but to be kept ignorant of who he is and of those emotional refinements that come from living in human society. Basilio, when Segismundo comes of age, has second thoughts. Maybe the stars were wrong. Or, perhaps will is stronger than fate. Basilio orders that the prince be drugged and brought to court. If he is good he will remain and inherit the throne; if not, he will be drugged once again and sent back to the tower, where he will be made to believe that what he saw was only a dream.

    Act II

    Clotaldo recounts to the king how Segismundo was given a potion and brought to the palace. Segismundo, still in a daze but heaped with princely adornments, is born in on a litter. Clotaldo and the entourage welcome him to court; dancers entertain him. Clarín does a magic trick, and the court choir sings to him. Segismundo, awake at last, exclaims at his new surroundings. Clotaldo tries to explain how all this came about, but is immediately set upon by Segismundo for his past treatment. A servant scolds Segismundo for his lack of respect and is threatened by Segismundo. Astolfo, Segismundo’s cousin and pretender to the throne, introduces himself and is greeted coolly. Once again the servant begins to instruct Segismundo and is further threatened. Estrella, another ambitious cousin, appears; Segismundo is aroused and ardently kisses her hand. The servant scolds yet again; Segismundo snaps, grabs the servant, and hurls him off the balcony to his death on the rocks below. Amid the general horror Basilio appears and, for the first time, father and son meet face to face. After a fierce confrontation Basilio admonishes, “Be humble, for perhaps you’re dreaming even while awake.” Segismundo ponders his situation and recognizes that he is a “man who is also a beast.” The act closes with his sudden attraction and overbearing approach to Rosaura, Clotaldo’s daughter, an unhappy noblewoman whose fate is linked to his. A fight ensues, first with Clotaldo, then with Astolfo. After Segismundo is subdued, Basilio appears once again. This climactic encounter between father and son leaves Segismundo spent and confused and Basilio convinced that there remains no choice but to return Segismundo to exile. Segismundo falls limp; he is dragged from court, followed slowly by the entourage. Rosaura remains alone to muse on his sad quandary.

    Act III

    As Segismundo awakens from his stupor he begins to doubt his ability to discern reality. His memories of the splendor of the court are vivid—but perhaps, as he is repeatedly told, it was all a dream. Basilio’s subjects, aware now of the spirit and boldness of their prince, are prepared to forgive him for his wildness in court and proclaim his successor to the throne in preference to rule by the distrusted foreigners Astolfo and Estrella. A rebel army forms and seeks out Segismundo at his tower, where they urge him to join and lead a revolt which will overthrow his father and give him the throne. Segismundo is at first enticed by the thought if triumph and vengeance for his treatment but collapses again into uncertainty—agreeing at last, and with much urging, to take on the fight. At the moment of his triumph, again unsure of his very existence, he relents. Basilio, mistaking Segismundo’s collapse of identity for humility, declares him fit to rule and proclaims, for reasons of state, plans for his marriage to Estrella. Segismundo, bleached of will and self, acquiesces, a “good” prince renouncing his love for Rosaura for the sake of social order—which, may be only a dream.


    • King Basilio - John Cheek
    • Segismundo - Roger Honeywell
    • Clotaldo - James Maddalena
    • Rosaura - Ellie Dehn
    • Conductor - Leonard Slatkin
    • Director - Kevin Newbury
    • Scenic Designer - David Korins
    • Costume Designer - Jessica Jahn
    • Lighting Designer - Japhy Weideman


    John Cheek (King Basilio)

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    Roger Honeywell (Segismundo)

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    James Maddalena (Clotaldo)

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    Ellie Dehn (Rosaura)

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    Keith Jameson (Clarin)

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    Leonard Slatkin (Conductor)

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    Kevin Newbury (Director)

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    David Korins (Scenic Designer)

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    Jessica Jahn (Costume Designer)

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    Japhy Weideman (Lighting Designer)

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    Video and Audio

    Excerpts from Lewis Spratlan Compositions

    Composer's Note for "When Crows Gather" - 1986 (2:57 duration)

    "When Crows Gather" draws on a series of musical diary entries from a single morning early in December 1985 when a throng of crows—something over a hundred— settled in the trees outside my studio and let fly with their strident calls for the better part of an hour. Rattled, I recalled reading that the gathering of crows is one of the signs used by the Farmer's Almanac to predict a severe winter. There followed various musical reminations on winter, troubled always by the maddening din of the crows -- which, as it happens, are clearly evoked only at the end of the piece.

    "When Crows Gather" is scored for three clarinets (the first and second doubling piccolo clarinet and E-flat clarinet, the second and third doubling bass clarinet), violin, cello, and piano. It is in nine principal segments, played without pause; the pitch material of each generated in some fashion by a single three-note group.

    To purchase this recording click here.

    "In Memoriam" - 1993 (2:50 duration)

    Excerpts from an interview with Jeff LeRoy:

    “In Memoriam” is Spratlan’s most “political piece” and may very well be his grandest. Scored for large orchestra, double chorus, and five soloists, the work captures images of the Spanish Conquest through Mayan eyes. Thus, much of the story lays in context of prophecy and prayer. Presented through Mayan Prophecy text, the poetry of Pablo Neruda and Cesar Vallejo, and the thunderous and dense sounds of an intricate orchestration, Spratlan’s vision of Mayan strength, bloodshed, and endurance seems rightfully told.

    Does this serve as your requiem for the Maya?
    It is surely that, even though descendants of the Mayans continue to live today in parts of Mexico and Central America. At the least it’s a requiem for their highly developed and sophisticated culture, but it’s also a celebration of their tenacity and survival strength as a people.

    Would you elaborate on the contribution of Neruda’s poetry?
    I came across a trove of his politically trenchant and expansive works, many of which eerily continued the themes of the Mayan texts. Without being explicit about it, Neruda had clearly contemplated the outwash of the Columbian conquest, and its immediate and long-range implications. I was particularly taken by his notion of the hero-poet as both champion of the people and chronicler of their struggles, and by his sense that their brilliance could survive and flourish despite constant threat.

    Can you cite specific musical inspiration?
    Formally, the great oratorios of Bach, with their narrative mixture of solos, ensembles, and choruses.  Embedded here too are traces of the chorus from Greek antiquity. A more modern counter-model might be the orchestral song cycle, such as Mahler’s “Das Lied von der Erde” or Strauss’s “Four Last Songs.” Also, the works of Ligeti, Berg, Dallapiccola, and Harbison.

    To purchase this recording click here.

    "Concertino for Violin and Chamber Ensemble" - 1994 (2:56 duration)

    From a review by Anthony Tommasini in The New York Times of the Albany Records CD:         

    Paradoxically, the American composer Lewis Spratlan has gained widespread attention for a prize-winning opera that has never been produced. He completed the work -- ''Life Is a Dream,'' based on a Calderón play -- in 1978. But a planned production fell through, and there are still no solid plans to produce the opera, even though a concert performance of Act II brought Mr. Spratlan the Pulitzer Prize for music in 2001.

    …A new recording of chamber music by Mr. Spratlan, ''When Crows Gather and Other Works,'' performed by the ensemble Sequitur, makes clear that his style, though challenging, is lucid, engrossing and vibrantly imaginative.

    ''When Crows Gather,'' nine interconnected vignettes about winter, scored for an unusual sextet (three clarinets, violin, cello and piano), was inspired by black crows outside Mr. Spratlan's studio. The din of the squawking birds is conveyed through music at once comical and grating. In an Ivesian touch, evocations of a Protestant hymn and a bit of a rag are deftly folded into the musical fabric…

    Concertino for Violin and Chamber Ensemble, with the dynamic Mark Kaplan as soloist, is a wonderfully fidgety work with a pensive slow movement and a fractured mazurka as finale. 

    This recording should spread the word about Mr. Spratlan's music. Might it also inspire some company to produce his opera?

    To purchase this recording click here.

    Composer Lewis Spratlan - Santa Fe

    Composer Lewis Spratlan discusses the particular thrill of having Life is a Dream staged at The Santa Fe Opera.

    Composer Lewis Spratlan

    Conductor Steven Osgood interviews composer Lewis Spratlan about the genesis of Life is a Dream. 

    Composer Lewis Spratlan - Life is a Dream libretto

    During the winter of 2010, Lewis Spratlan discussed the upcoming world premiere of his Pulitzer Prize-winner opera, LIfe is a Dream, at The Santa Fe Opera. In this clip, he comments about the source material and creation of the opera's libretto.

    Life is a Dream Video 1

    Segismundo (Roger Honeywell) laments his life of isolation. 

    Life is a Dream Video 2

    After Basilio (John Cheek) announces his plan to let Segismundo inherit the throne, the courtiers hail their king.

    Life is a Dream Video 3

    Clarin (Keith Jameson) speaks to Clotaldo (James Maddalena) about Rosaura.

    Life is a Dream Video 4

    At the end of the opera, Segismundo (Roger Honeywell) questions all that has happened stating that happiness does not endure but passes like a dream.