Music by Nevada Jones
Libretto by Kevin Lawler
Performed in English with English supertitles
About the opera:
Stranger from Paradise is a world premiere opera and co-production of Opera Omaha and the Great Plains Theatre Conference. Based on the life and work of the prophetic artist William Blake and his longtime collaborator and wife Catherine, the opera explores the struggle of creation while weaving through themes of love, death, and art as social conscience. Experimental in its approach, Stranger from Paradise infuses opera with an intimacy in text, design, performance, and tone that draws from the strengths of contemporary theatre production practices.
Stranger from Paradise is an official event of:
William Blake, prophetic poet and painter, works at his desk. The man is dying, but in his stubbornness, he refuses to rest. Finally encouraged to bed by Catherine, his wife and longtime collaborator, he is comforted by a familiar sight: heavenly beings, long the subject of his own visions, who now crowd his bed and look upon him.
From there, Stranger from Paradise travels back, skipping from moment to moment, work to work, leaving no stone unturned. We meet Robert, William's sick younger brother, whose health declines as William and Catherine's love grows. Catherine's own visions are revealed in real time, and William encourages her to pursue them. Their lives, so often flitting between happiness and misery, are laid bare. The opera eventually catches up to its beginning, with William's powerful Romantic-era work - reimagined for our time - peppered throughout.
Back in the present, William and Catherine continue to rest. William, ever stubborn, insists he will draw her, but his once-great strength finally fails him. He is blessed with one more vision before he passes: an image of angels surrounding a great feast, his brother in the distance, and Catherine's brilliant, golden light, shining eternally.
Scene 1 – Prelude
Scene 2 – Introduction/Songs of Innocence
Male Ensemble sings from the INTRODUCTION to the SONGS OF INNOCENCE.
Scene 3 - Death Scene
Old William Blake is in bed dying. His wife Catherine is by his side.
Scene 4 – The Nurse’s Song
THE NURSE’S SONG from the SONGS OF INNOCENCE. The Nurse and Children sing and play on the green as the sun begins to set.
William, as a young boy, while sketching in a field, sees a beautiful and terrifying vision of a tree filled with angels.
Scene 5 - Enitharimon’s Aria
Enitharimon is a demigoddess in Blake’s cosmology whose characteristics William’s wife Catherine inspired. In this scene, she beckons all of the lost and tormented spectres stuck in a hellish limbo to come to her loom, where she is weaving them the bodies of infants so that they may be born, pass into our world, and eventually die and be released to paradise.
Scene 6 - The Bath
Young William is at the beginning of his journey as an artist and finds, for the first time, words powerful enough to convey the eternal forces that he sees and feels. He is washing in a bath. He dips his head into the water and then joyfully flings the water into the air with each new phrase that he discovers.
Scene 7 - The River
Young Catherine has a shocking vision along the River Thames and realizes that she has a purpose here in the world, even though she does not yet know what that is.
Scene 8 – Young William and Young Robert
William’s frail and dearly loved brother Robert asks William if he might join him in his great artistic work as several visions of their childhood arise in their memory.
Scene 9 - The Lion
A lion sits on stage and stares at the audience.
Scene 10 - The Walk
Young William and Young Catherine share their dreams and commit their hearts to each other.
Scene 11 - Albion Scene
Albion, a demigod in the cosmology who represents all of humanity, is seen in the epic fall from paradise into this “fallen” earthly realm of suffering, pain and death. At the same time we see a contemporary plane flight where the pilot has had a psychotic break and is taking the plane higher and higher into the atmosphere. The flight attendant begs him to stop as the structure of the plane begins to fail.
Scene 12 - Marriage Scene
The marriage of William and Catherine as seen through the floating or buoyant love that they have for each other and the hopes that they have for their life together.
Scene 13 - The Chimney Sweeper
We hear from actual legislation regarding child chimney sweepers in 1788 in London, then a verse from the SONGS OF EXPERIENCE version of THE CHIMNEY SWEEPER and finally from Blake himself.
Scene 14 - Sunbathing
William and Catherine are sunbathing in the privacy of their walled-in garden when Catherine shares her sorrow at not being able to have children. The scene ends with a surprise visit from Robert, which catches everyone off guard, and after some roughhousing between the two brothers, Robert collapses, unable to breathe.
Scene 15 - Urizen Separated
Urizen, another demigod in Blake’s cosmology, is the god of reason who seeks to divide and order existence into what is measurable. He is the cause of much of the great pain and suffering of humanity. The text he sings is from Blake’s prophecies with pieces of text from several contemporary brokers of power mixed in.
Scene 16 - Robert/Albion Death Scene
While Robert dies in William’s arms, we see a scene that Blake wrote of Albion dying (from eternity/paradise to this fallen/temporal world) in the Divine Council’s (Jesus’) arms.
Scene 17 - Paper
William, suffering with the loss of his brother and the strains of an almost complete rejection of all of his work by the leaders of art and culture in London, lashes out in a blind rage at Catherine.
Scene 18 - The Tyger
Considered one of the greatest poems ever written. The poet looks at all of the pain and suffering in the world and wonders, without judgement, what immortal hand could have created this.
Scene 19 - William and Catherine in the Late Middle
William and Catherine are working late on a summer night and are carried into an improvisational song and dance of joy.
Scene 20 - The Fallen World
Four outside perspectives of Blake and his work taken from actual texts written about him during his lifetime.
Scene 21 - The Bard’s Song
Old William sings of his life’s work from the peaceful and vibrant purview of old age.
Scene 22 - The Laughing Song
Old William sees, once more, the deep vitality that he and Catherine had when they were young and just beginning their lives and work together. The lyrics are taken directly from the poem of THE LAUGHING SONG in the SONGS OF INNOCENCE.
Scene 23 - Poverty
In a stark shift, we see Old William and Catherine packing to move to a smaller living quarters because they are nearly penniless.
Scene 24 - The Song of Los
Los, another demigod in Blake’s cosmology, is thought to be Blake’s incarnation of himself within his prophetic world. Here, Los is a homeless man who is trying to help us see the true nature of our lives here on earth. As this occurs, Old William collapses and carried by the chorus back to his death bed.
Scene 25 - Old Catherine Aria
Old Catherine is returning to William’s deathbed after being sent out by him to spend their last money on pencils so that he can keep working. She stops for a moment to rest and contemplate the end that is now upon them.
Scene 26 - Albion’s Song
In this culmination of the vision, passion, and energy of Blake’s work, the chorus (Albion) sing of soulfully resonant moments in their lives as Young William discovers the archetypal words to convey the mission of his life’s work.
Scene 27 - Old William’s Death
We return to the moment of the death scene that we left at the beginning of the opera and move through the end of William’s death.
Kevin Lawler, Director
Stage Director Kevin Lawler is a poet, playwright, producer, director, designer and actor. He is the producing artistic director of the Great Plains Theatre Conference, a co-founder of the award-winning BLUEBARN Theatre, and the founder and artistic director of the National Institute for the Lost. Since the 1980s, he has helped write, produce, direct, design and act in many seasons of theatre, including numerous premieres and original works. He served as the BLUEBARN Theatre’s artistic director from 1998 to 2002. His plays have been produced across the country in theatres that include The Kennedy Center, Here Space, Lied Center for Performing Arts, Baby D Theatre, New York International Fringe Festival and Minnesota Fringe Festival. His film Seeing Beauty was shot and premiered as part of the 2006 RipFest. His poems have been published in The Cape Cod Literary Review, Zink Magazine and The Lake Region Review. His travel writing was featured as a year-long journal in Medium Magazine. He is a member of the first American Acting Program at the Royal National Theatre of Great Britain. Mr. Lawler received a B.F.A. from the Professional Theater Training Program at the State University of New York at Purchase.
Hal France, Conductor
During a thirty five-year professional career as an opera conductor, Hal France has led organizations and performed with opera companies and symphony orchestras around the United States. In recent seasons his expanded activities include speaking and advocating for the arts. His positions include Executive Director of KANEKO (2008–2012), Artistic Director of Opera Omaha (1995–2005), and Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic (2000-2006). He made his professional debut in 1981 at Washington’s Kennedy Center. He served the Houston Grand Opera first as Associate Conductor and later as Resident Conductor over a four-year span. He has conducted performances for the New York City Opera, Seattle Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Santa Fe Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia, Calgary Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Chautauqua Opera, Minnesota Opera, Utah Opera and Symphony, Cleveland Opera, Dayton Opera, Shreveport Opera, Opera Carolina, Wolf Trap Opera, Opera Festival of New Jersey, Tulsa Opera, Portland Opera, Kentucky Opera, Hawaii Opera Theater and Orlando Opera.
Nevada Jones, Composer
Composer Nevada Jones is composer, singer and voice teacher. He passionately believes that the most effective music emanates from the heart and spirit, rather than from the intellect. Stranger from Paradise is the latest project in his fruitful creative brotherhood with longtime friend and collaborator, Kevin Lawler. In 2008, Mr. Jones wrote music for The Tulip, a play written and directed by Mr. Lawler and performed at the BLUEBARN Theatre. They worked together again on Mr. Lawler’s innovative production of Eugene O’Neill’s play, Hughie (2012), which transformed some of Omaha’s less-glamorous industrial locations into experimental theaters. In 2009, Mr. Jones composed and produced the soundtrack to The Caterer, which premiered in Los Angeles and starred LeVar Burton. In ﬁlm, Mr. Jones composed and produced the soundtracks for the shorts, Personal Demons (2007) and Four Minutes (2009) and the series pilot, Secret Bedfellows (2012).
- Ali Hall, Design Team Member
- Simon Harding, Design Team Member
- Pei-Wen Huang-Shea, Design Team Member
- Valerie St. Pierre-Smith, Design Team Member
- Cecilia Durbin, Design Team Member
- Matthew Clegg
- Terry Hodges
- Elijah Brown
- Elizabeth Kelly, Ensemble
- Kelsey Park, Ensemble
- Sebastian Sorensen, Ensemble
- Timothy Madden, Ensemble
- Amanda DeBoer Bartlett
- Mary Carrick
- Caroline Kouma, Ensemble
- Karina Brazas, Ensemble
- Michael Gray, Ensemble
- Jesse Wohlman, Ensemble
- Evelyn Hill, Young Girl
Metropolitan Community College South Omaha Campus
Industrial Training Center Building
Fri, May 26 | 7:30pm
Sat, May 27 | 2:00pm
Sat, May 27 | 7:30pm
This is a free event, reservations required.