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The Gift of the Magi


The Gift of the Magi
Opera
SF Conservatory New Music Ensemble
Nicole Paiement, conductor
Arsis Recordings, 2001

Libretto by Nicholas Giardini, based on the classic short story by O. Henry

Singers: 4 solo roles; lyric soprano, lyric baritone; dramatic mezzo; lyric bass-baritone; 3 Magi, tenor, baritone, bass

Orchestra: 14 players (1,1,2,1 1,1,1,0, pno., harp, string quintet)

Productions:  San Francisco Conservatory, Muddy River Opera Company, Asheville Lyric Opera, Little Winnipeg Opera, Opera South, Opera Ignite!, Trinity Lyric Opera (Castro Valley, CA), University of Minnesota Opera Theatre, Riverside Lyric Opera (CA), Berlin International Opera, Boston Metro Opera, Hidden Valley Opera (Carmel, CA), Opera Fort Collins, Otterbein College Opera Theatre

Commercial CD recording: Arsis Audio www.arsisaudio.com

Della's Aria (4:02)
Aimée Puentes, soprano
Jim's Soliloquy (3:38)
Tim Krol, baritone
Last Scene (6:07)
Aimée Puentes, Soprano, Tim Krol, Baritone
Branden Smith, tenor, Aaron DiPiazza, baritone, Gary Sorenson, bass

REVIEWS

"David Conte and his librettist, Nicholas Giardini, have turned (The Gift of the Magi) into a lovely little chamber opera that should give organizations an alternative to Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors. Conte's music is very tonal and melodic...his word setting is really quite wonderful."

- John Story, Fanfare Magazine

"The music is well orchestrated, vocally sympathetic, and pleasant to listen to...The level of musical dramatization...becomes simultaneously delicate and intense, and free of cliché..."

- Joshua Rosenblum, Opera News

"Menotti's 'Amahl and the Night Visitors' may now have a companion...Conte has lavished music of grand romantic feelings upon the proceedings, providing this simple tale with a lush spectacle of extravagant lyricism...(with) soaring duets and arias of Puccinian exuberance...Aided by the clarity of {Nicolas} Giardini's articulate libretto, Conte exercised particular skill in integrating specific events, acts, and even the characters' gestures into his orchestation...the work is framed by striking a cappella ensemble numbers, sung off-stage and evoking the guiding spirit of the three Magi."

- Ching Chang, San Francisco Classical Voice

"(A) touching one act opera...a most valuable addition to the repertoire."

- New Classics Online (UK)

SYNOPSIS

Jim and Delia's cramped cold-water flat. Late afternoon, Christmas Eve.

Scene One: Della arrives home and busily prepares for the evening ahead. She lets down her long hair and luxuriates in a private reverie. Jim enters unheard and listens to her singing. Della abruptly stops when she senses him and scolds him for spying on her. He woos her, but she gently tempers his ardor. As they begin their Christmas preparation, Jim is stuck with an idea and starts off on a last-minute errand. Della reminds him of their promise not to buy one another gifts. Jim balks, but she exacts his promise once again. They part tenderly and he goes off.

Scene Two: Once Jim is gone, Della searches for any money hidden in the flat, but she finds little. She seizes upon an idea and calls Maggie to come and help her. Maggie rushes in and anxiously questions Della about her call. Della calms her and tries to enlist her help in a plan to get Jim a special Christmas gift. When Della admits she wants to sell her hair for money to buy the gift, Maggie is distraught and tries to dissuade her. Della is impassive and finally persuades Maggie to help her. They go off to sell Della's hair.

Night falls and moonlight floods the apartment.

Scene Three: Jim returns and coaxes Henry in as they lug a huge Christmas tree into the flat. Jim proudly shows Henry the gift he has bought for Della. Henry is impressed but worries about the cost. He questions Jim about where he got the money to buy it. Jim evades his questions but finally admits to pawning his father's heirloom pocket-watch. Henry is outraged and they argue. Jim tries to explain and asks for Henry's understanding. Henry eventually relents and wishes Jim well as he goes.

Scene Four: Della returns and is overjoyed to find the Christmas tree. Her gift for Jim slips from her coat pocket, and she admits to breaking their promise. Jim presents his gift to her and they chide one another. Della pleads with Jim to open his gift immediately and he teases her by stalling. When he finally opens it, he is stunned to find a gold chain for his watch. Della is distressed to learn he has sold his watch for her gift and begs him to return it. He persuades her to at least open her gift and she finds ornate combs for her hair. She is heartbroken as she removes her hat to reveal her newly shorn hair. In an embarrassed silence, they start to understand the greater meaning of their gifts. They begin to see each other in a new light and come to renew their vow of commitment and love.

BIOGRAPHIES

David Conte has received commissions from Chnticleer, the San Francisco Symphony Chorus, the Oakland East-Bay Symphony and the Dayton Philharmonic. His first opera, The Dreamers (with librettist Philip Littell) was commissioned and produced by the Sonoma City Opera. He has composed songs for singers Barbara Bonney, Phyllis Bryn-Julson, and Thomas Hampson. Mr. Conte is Professor of Composition at the San francisco Conservatory of Music.

Nicholas Giardini has also collaborated with David Conte on Eos, a choral symphony commissioned by the Boston (MA) Gay Men's Chorus. In his native Chicago, Mr. Giardini acted extensively and directed his own work before pursuing a career in medicine.

Nicole Paiement (conductor) is Director of the San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble and Director of the Orchestra and Chamber Singers at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and Artistic Director of the California Ensemble Parallele. Ms. Paiement has recorded the music of Tailleferre, Cowell, and Aarrison, and was the first prize winner in the Scaritt Conducting Competition.

Aimée Puentes (Della) has sung Micaela, Sister Constance, Pamina, Musetta, Giannetta and Barbarina. She recently made her debut with the New Orleans Opera Association. She has sung with the San Francisco Opera, Opera San José, Chautauqua Opera, and Arizona Opera.

Tim Krol (Jim) was a member of Chanticleer for nine years, and appears on thirteen Chanticleer recordings, including the Grammy Award-winning Colors of Love. Mr. Krol has also played leading roles in Chanticleer's production of Benjamin Britten's Curlew River, and in the Berkeley Symphony's production of Elliott Carter's What's Next? under the direction of Kent Nagano.

Elena Bocharova (Maggie) is an Adler Fellow with the San Francisco Opera. She made her debut with that company in the 1999 Ring Festival, and has appeared in their productions of Louise, Lucia di Lammermoor and Wozzeck. Ms. Bocharova created the role of Maggie in the 1997 workshop production of The Gift of the Magi.

Chad Runyon (Henry) has appeared in concerts throughout the Bay Area with the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, American Bach Soloists, the San Francisco Symphony, the Men and Boys of Grace Cathedral, the San Francisco Opera, and Chanticleer. Mr. Runyon also maintains a private voice studio, and serves on the music staff of the Pacific Boychoir Academy.

San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble
Nicole Paiement, Conductor
Founded in 1968, the San Francisco Conservatory New Music Ensemble was one of the first groups in the country to engage students in the performance of 20th century works. Composer John Adams directed the group during its early years, establishing connections with Bay Area composers and developing a diverse audience. The Ensemble is composed entirely of Conservatory students, and gives six concerts annually.