This interview was held in Chicago in October of 1987.  The text was published
in The Opera Journal in September, 1992.  For this website presentation, it has
been slightly re-edited, and photos and links have been added.

Composer  Marvin  David  Levy

A Conversation with Bruce Duffie


Born in New Jersey, Marvin David Levy (August 2, 1932 - February 9, 2015) began studying piano as a young child and studied with the legendary piano pedagogue Carl Friedberg at The Juilliard School. After turning his attention to composition, Levy studied with Philip James at New York University, where he received his B.A., and was then a pupil of the pioneering American composer Otto Luening at Columbia University, receiving his master’s degree in music there in 1956. While a student, Levy was the archivist of the American Opera Society, and later its assistant director, and he also worked as a freelance music critic. His interest in theatrical music—including but not confined to opera—grew during those years. During summers he was an apprentice stage director at music-theater workshops, where he soon directed full productions ranging from My Fair Lady to Carmen.

Also during the 1950s he wrote three one-act operas, whose premieres he also directed: The Tower (1956), a comic biblically based fable for the Santa Fe Opera; Sobota Komachi (1957), based on a 14th-century Japanese Noh play; and Escorial (1958), based on a play by Michel de Ghelderode.

In 1959, Levy’s oratorio For the Time Being, on a text by W. H. Auden, was performed and commercially recorded at Carnegie Hall, narrated by Claude Rains, with vocal soloists Lucine Amara, Maureen Forrester, Reri Grist, and Ezio Flagello. “I find a new young [Benjamin] Britten lurking in you,” wrote Leonard Beernstein to Levy after that performance, “and I think that before you are through you’ll make opera history.” Indeed, Levy did, only a few years later, when the Ford Foundation commissioned him to write an opera for the opening season of the Metropolitan Opera at its new house at Lincoln Center. Mourning Becomes Electra, based on Eugene O’Neill’s modern adaptation and interpretation of the Aeschylus play, premiered at the Met in 1967 and received instant critical acclaim and international attention. Unprecedented for the Met, the opera remained in the repertoire for several seasons. “A tremendous achievement, a remarkable work,” wrote Bernstein to Levy. Notwithstanding his numerous other works and achievements, Mourning Becomes Electra remains Levy’s best-known work. It was restaged by the Chicago Lyric Opera in 1998 in a revised version.

Levy has been the recipient of many honors, including two Guggenheim Fellowships and two Prix de Rome awards. Among his other important works, apart from those recorded for the Milken Archive, are The Zachary Star, a children’s opera (with both children’s and adult roles), with alternate Christmas and Hanukka versions; a symphony; a piano concerto written for Earl Wild, who premiered it with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Georg Solti; Kyros, a dance-poem for chamber orchestra; Trialogus, also performed by the Chicago Symphony; Pascua Florida and The Arrows of Time; and a Passover opera commissioned for an ABC network television broadcast by the Jewish Theological Seminary.

--  By Neil W. Levin [posted on the Milken Archive]  
--  Names which are links on this webpge refer to my interviews elsewhere on my website.  BD  


In August of 1992, composer Marvin David Levy [pronounced LEE-vee] reached his sixtieth birthday.  Though his may not be a household name, a few of his compositions have received prominence that most composers envy.  Besides having a piano concerto premiered by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Sir Georg Solti, to readers of this magazine the most important achievement is his opera Mourning Becomes Electra, which was not only commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera Company, but was produced by them and revived in subsequent seasons.

Born in Passaic, New Jersey, Levy studied at New York University, and later at Columbia, and in Europe after winning an American Prix de Rome.  His catalogue is not large, but several of the works are of major importance.

In the fall of 1987, Levy was back in Chicago for performances of his large choral work, Masada, which he had written in 1973 and revised for these performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Upon his arrival, I arranged to meet him for a conversation.  Despite recent personal misfortunes, he was rather jolly and good-humored, and here is much of what was discussed at the time . . . . .
Bruce Duffie:   Let’s start out with a real easy question.  Where’s opera going today?

Marvin David Levy:   In terms of what people understand as opera, which is Nineteenth century opera, it’s dead.  It’s dead as a doornail, except for the fact that museums certainly aren’t dead, and opera as we know it from the Nineteenth century is a museum.  It’s kept in fairly good shape by big houses that reproduce it, but when you ask where it’s going, I assume you mean are people making opera; are they producing opera; are they writing opera; is there any future for the form of opera?

levy BD:    That’s my question.  Is there any future for the form?

MDL:   The form of opera as it was, has no future.  It was long overdone.  Let’s look at the facts.  Operas that were written in the 1920s, such as Der Rosenkavalier and Turandot, are the last pieces that hold the stage.  There must be a reason for it.

BD:    Is that to say Wozzeck or Lulu does not hold the stage?

MDL:   I would call them anomalies.  They are not really part of the operatic repertoire because they’re not operas in the sense they’re singing.  They’re musical-stage pieces that go off towards a dead end.  They go off in a different direction, but no one is going to follow them.  Those two works create a different kind of theater.  For my money, singing is what opera is about.

BD:    Singing, or great singing?
 [Vis-à-vis the program shown at right, see my interviews with Zubin Mehta, Evelyn Lear, Sherrill Milnes, John Macurdy, and Bodo Igesz.]

MDL:   I’ll even take less-than-great singing, but it’s singing that makes you want to go, and it’s theater.  I’m a theater man from way back, but it’s the beauty of it that you want to hear.  There’s an old story about Puccini and Toscanini in some little town attending a terrible performance of La Bohème.  Puccini was crying, and Toscanini said, “Maestro, don’t cry!  Who’s going to hear this performance?”  Puccini replied, “It’s not that.  I’m crying because it’s so beautiful!”  [Both laugh]  So there you are.  There is a beauty that people want from an opera, and it’s mostly singing.

BD:    Does Peter Grimes fall into that category?

MDL:   Yes.  That one holds the stage nowadays.

BD:    I’m trying to nudge it forward a little bit.

MDL:   I’m the first one to say, “I’ll write opera that will stay in the repertoire.”  In a hundred years, they’ll still be listening to Nineteenth century opera, but I don’t know what they’ll be listening to from the Twentieth century.

BD:    Did you write your big piece, Mourning Becomes Electra, with the idea that it would last into the next century?

MDL:   I was twenty years younger, and it was a nostalgic trip for me.  My family took me to opera when I was ten years old.  I’d hate to tell you the people I saw when I was a kid, but it was a long time ago, during the War
the big one.  I grew up with it every Saturday.  I wanted them to take me, and they did until I was old enough to stand and go by myself when I was in high school.  So, I really grew up with the tradition of opera.  I know it inside out.  I love it, but I can’t say that one can reproduce it any more in that way.  The answer to your question is that there is a kind of musical theater that will take the place of opera, but it is a populist kind of theater.

BD:    Is it something that will grow out of opera, or break away and get a new start?

MDL:   It’s not a break.  It’s a combination of an awful lot of things.  There’s the complexity which serious music grew into, which is a kind of German Expressionism, which began to make the orchestras such a character in whatever opera it was that your attention was there, and not on the stage half the time.  That’s never going to work in the theater.  Even opera sung in English uses surtitles so you can understand it, and that should not be.  That’s not the way to go to the theater and understand what’s happening on the stage.  Nobody cares what they’re doing on the stage, because they’re more interested in what they’re doing in the orchestra.  I love to write for the orchestra myself, but you can’t produce musical theater that way.  That complexity gave way to the works of such composers as Philip Glass.  I’m not crazy about that kind of music, but I understand where it comes from.  Historically, a pendulum swings back in the opposite direction totally.

BD:    Isn’t the public crazy about the works of Philip Glass?

MDL:   The public isn’t.  It’s just the kids who are.  They want to be hypnotized, which is fine.  I want those operas done because it’s needed.  It’s like a correction in the stock market.  Eventually it will swing back to something we can comprehend again.

BD:    So where does the music of Marvin David Levy fit into that line?

MDL:   You’re just going to have to wait a while.  I’m working on a musical theater piece right now.  I’m writing the book and all the lyrics, which is a new field for me, and I’m getting a big kick out of it.

BD:    Obviously you believe in the musical theater to keep spending your life working on it.

MDL:   Oh, sure, I do.  There’s no question about it.  It irks me, and it disturbs me to see so much failure going on with it for such obvious reasons.  I’m not saying I know all the answers, even though I’ve grown up with contemporary opera.  It’s very sad that nobody wants to produce them anymore.

BD:    We continue to train another generation of singers to perform the Nineteenth century works.  Are those performers going to be able to do your works as well?

levy MDL:   Yes, my idiom is popular.  I’m not writing an opera, I’m writing a ‘musical with operatic pretentions’at least that’s what I call it.  [Both laugh]  It happens to be very funny, and I can parody a lot of things I know very well, including myself.  I may not be old enough, yet, to do it too well.  Verdi did it in Falstaff, but it’s totally accessible, sometimes popular, and sometimes operatic, depending on the situation.  It won’t be done in an opera house.  That’s another part of the problemthe opera houses.  They’re gargantuan stadiums where people have to scream their lungs out to be heard.  You can’t put small things that change harmony quickly into such a big house.  I’ll give you an example.  Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress was done in New York for the first time in the early 1950s.  That is a chamber opera, first done in La Fenice in Venice.  He wrote it as a chamber opera with a Mozart-size orchestra.  His music changes harmonically by the second, practically.  You haven’t finished hearing one thing before the next is sent out to you.  You can’t understand what that music is like in a big house.  At the Met, it just clutters up your ear because of the resonance of that house.  So you can’t really do small operas in big houses, and nobody is going to do big operas like Mourning Becomes Electra.  The future of American opera is in smaller theaters where they can afford to produce it.

BD:    The European tradition is for smaller theaters.

MDL:   Of course it is.  Here you have to pack
em in like P.T. Barnum.  That’s what the Met does, and that’s what they like.

BD:    Is that what you like?  [Vis-à-vis the recoding shown at left, part of the Milken Archive series Masterworks of Prayer, this volume, entitled Art in Worship, also includes music by David Amram, Morton Gould, David Diamond, Jacob Druckman, Roy Harris, Douglas Moore, and Leonard Bernstein for a total of sixty-six minutes.]

MDL:   That’s not what I like.  When I saw Così Fan Tutte in an outlandish little production by Peter Sellars, it was done in a small theater holding maybe 500.  I can’t remember enjoying myself so much for a whole afternoon.  I sat and had everything around me
all of the music, and all of the sound, and all of the words.  It was pure joy to listen to it that way.  I would never want to hear Mozart in a house the size of the Met again.  It becomes a totally different kind of opera.  You need to understand that the singers didn’t have to knock themselves out to do all the roulades and appoggiaturas.  They don’t have to push or force.  It’s all there in their voices.  They should be able to whisper and be heard.  Oh well, I can’t run the whole opera world, nor do I want to.

BD:    Are you fitting into the opera world, or making a place for yourself somewhere else?

MDL:   I’m purposefully moving into the Broadway world.  The opera world can’t be fitted into any more
at least in the big theaters.  There really is no future for contemporary music in the big houses.  The small ones, yes, but even then a work is played once or twice, or a dozen times, and then drops dead.  People don’t hear it again.  They don’t want to hear it.  That’s not the theater’s fault, and it’s not the public’s fault.  It’s really the composer’s fault.  There are some who are succeeding quite nicelyArgento, for instance.

BD:    Are you part of a line of composers?

MDL:   That’s difficult for me to say.  I suppose I’ve come out of the Germanic tradition of writing music.  I’ve always held onto the idea that in opera the voice is first and has to lead.  It’s not the orchestra accompanied by the voice.  I’ve tried to hold onto that idea, but it’s not enough.  It’s one idea among many.  There are people in the musical theater today who are trying to go toward that, like Sondheim.  His lyrics are to die for, they’re so clever.  He doesn’t have any faith in his lyrical gift, so what happens most of the time is that he’ll write music that is so fast that you can’t hear the terrific lyrics.  They get lost, and you have to go somewhere and read them.  He’s not the greatest tune-smith, and there doesn’t have to be tunes always, but he has pulled the musical theater in a direction that it didn’t go before.  There are a few others who are doing it.

BD:    Are we purposely blurring the lines between opera, and operetta, and musical comedy?

MDL:   Who is the one to draw the lines, and why do lines have to be drawn anyway?  When I write something, if I find the kind of idea that interests me, all those lines go out the window.  It’s that particular piece that interests me, and how best I can put it in front of the public.  So, I make up my own lines then.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Let me ask the big philosophical question.  What is the ultimate purpose of music in society?

MDL:   Why do you ask questions like that?  Do I know what society needs or wants?  No artist does, and if they say they know, they’re just being little pompous kings sitting on top of something.  They don’t know.

BD:    I’m not looking for a final answer, but what are the ideas that feed into it?

MDL:   What is the basic result of any music?  What does music give to anybody?  What is the feeling one gets from music?  First and foremost, it’s a sensual feeling.  They want that sensuality, and they want the emotional aspect.  That’s all they want.  Most people don’t want any intellectual aspects.  It’s not for them to bother with.  There are a lot of composers that like to sit around building erector sets in music that are terribly complex, and you can study them forever, and they make terrific sense, but what else?  Do they mean anything other than that?  That’s why they’re very quick to say that music means nothing except music.  They’re very quick to support objective music.  I don’t believe in objectivity in music for a minute, because even if a composer believes in it, the baggage that a listener brings to any concert is laden with a million kinds of responses of their own personal lives that they’re going to attach to it no matter what the composer had in mind, even if he had nothing in mind.

BD:    Is this something good about writing music with texts
that it helps to direct ideas?

MDL:   I suppose it does.  I always write music with an audience in mind.

BD:    A particular audience?

MDL:   Me!  I’m the audience, because if it pleases me it’s going to please somebody.  I’m not saying I’m trying to write for the lowest common denominator of listener who knows nothing, but I’d like to because knowing nothing is fine with me as long as they feel something.  That’s where I come from when it comes to pure music.  It doesn’t exist.  It’s like the tree that falls in the forest when nobody’s around.  Did it make a sound?  Of course it did.  By the time you’re of reasonable age, if you can’t make reasonable inferences from what you know from your past experiences about things that happen, then how can we judge what we do altogether?  We’re living in some kind of never-never land.  We know that impact creates waves of sound, and unless there’s no air, there’s going to be noise even if you didn’t hear it.  I only use this as an example of objective or subjective music.  It is always subjective.

BD:    Do you write your music to have an impact in it?

MDL:   I certainly do, and you’d better tell me if it doesn’t!  [Much laughter]

BD:    Does that impact change either from piece to piece, or from performances to performance over the years?

levy MDL:   There are all kinds of subtle changes in it.  Certainly, what strikes me as valid or important when I’m twenty doesn’t mean the same thing to me when I’m fifty.  We all change as we grow, and we have different ideas about emotions.  Mostly, we shed emotions as we grow older.  On the other hand, you can also create much more sensitive ones that take more time.  I find myself able to take the time in the music, and have the patience to plumb the depths of an idea if I think it’s a good one.  I may not have done that when I was a kid.

BD:    Do you ever go back and revise scores?

MDL:   You’re looking at one right now.  Masada was revised twice.  The latest revision took eight or nine months.  I hope I won’t have to do it again.

BD:    What do you say to the music historian a hundred years from now who finds the urtext, and wants to do that version?  [Vis-à-vis the recording shown at right, see my interviews with Yoel Levi (pronounced YOH-el LEH-vee), and Jorge Mester.  Photo from the recording sessions is shown below.]

MDL:   What do you think we do this for?  It’s to give them trouble!  [Much laughter]  Really, they’ll figure their way through it.  They may not always come to the right answers, and they certainly won’t know why I changed things, why I threw things out, and wrote other things.

BD:    Are there any right answers?

MDL:   Not really, no.  There’s no right and wrong.  It’s a matter of your ear, and your sensitivity, and also your experience.  So many things fall into it that make you understand just what the style is.  Try to define style!  It’s very difficult because so many aspects of your life enter into it.

BD:    Have you basically been pleased with the performances of your works you’ve heard over the years?

MDL:   [Hesitating]  There’s a point at which you become less pleased.  When you’re a kid, you’re pleased if anybody whistles a tune, or anything you’ve written.  You write a song, and if it’s played on a kazoo, you’re happy.  The more experience you have, the more critical you become of yourself and also how people are performing the music.  At this point in my life, it’s very hard for me to settle for anything less than exactly what I want to hear, although one has to.  In this case, with the Chicago Symphony I will not have to.  It’s a wonderful orchestra, a wonderful chorus, a terrific tenor, a fine speaker, and I think I’m in good hands with Margaret Hillis.  Maybe not the first night... that will be like the final rehearsal.  But by Saturday night, we will have gotten it.

BD:    This is an oratorio with tenor and a narrator.  Is it at all like an opera once removed?

MDL:   One could almost stage it in a way.  It’s not an opera in the sense that what happens musically or dramatically makes a story.  It doesn’t move the story ahead.  That’s the basic difference between opera and oratorio, I suppose.  In opera, what happens on the stage moves the story, even if it stops to reflect on it periodically.  Masada is almost entirely reflection.  Even if the events happen, they don’t necessarily happen in sequence.  It’s a kaleidoscope of things, so you’ll get the idea of what the story was all about, and it will follow chronologically in some way.  But it’s not an opera in the sense that you’ll see one thing happening after another, or picture it in your mind.  This piece could be done, perhaps, with slides or something that would be more easily adapted to move quickly, so you would understand quickly what was in the mind.

BD:    Perhaps a film?

MDL:   A film would be the ideal.  A documentary movie would be the way to do it if you wanted to visualize Masada.

BD:    Does this oratorio have antecedents in the works of Handel and others?

MDL:   It’s very far removed from them.  There are no set pieces, or maybe one or two that might qualify as such.

BD:    I was trying to draw a parallel, because you said that opera in the Nineteenth century mode was gone, so perhaps the oratorio tradition was still viable?

MDL:   It’s a tradition, but it wasn’t done too much in the Nineteenth century.  It’s mostly an Eighteenth century idea.  You’re not writing that kind of work, though there is something similar to recitative in it.  These days we call it ‘proportional music’ with no bar lines.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Are all the pieces you write on commission?

MDL:   No.  The musical started like an opera, and I wrote two acts of it that way.  I looked at it, and looked at it, and looked at it, and I said to myself, “You’re nuts!  This is, first of all, not an opera, so why should you even want to make an opera out of it?  People are going to come to see theater and not know what in the world you’re talking about, or what they’re saying on the stage!”

BD:    So you were thinking opera, but your pen was writing something else?

MDL:    It began to.  By the time I finished the second act, it was going into another room somewhere.  [Laughter]  It was saying, “We don’t want to do this,” and it was right.  So, I let it go.

BD:    Are you saying that the music eventually controls its own destiny in your hand?

levy MDL:   One can’t say it’s controlling you, but what happens is that when you deal with characters, they seem to take on a life of their own.  It’s not that they do, but it seems that way in the sense that you get to know them so well that you can foresee what they’re going to do.  I can sing what they’re going to sing, and I can be those characters almost.  Once that happened, I knew I was in the right ball park, and it wasn’t an opera anymore.  I knew what the characters were going to do next, and how they would do it.  It’s not me anymore in the sense that the mind you’re creating tells you what it would do, and that’s what they do, so that’s what I make them do.  You have to get into people and their ideas.  Writing an opera is not just music with orchestra.  That’s nonsense.

BD:    Are those the particular joys and sorrows of writing for the human voice, or are we talking about character?

MDL:   The joys of writing for a human voice are character.  It’s the character that you put into it that makes it wonderful, or beautiful, or miserable.  The character is what makes it
.  Character is everything when you’re writing for the voice, and I’m someone who knows how to write for the voice.  It’s not simply scales, or things that are easy for the voice to do.  That has less to do with it than anything.  It’s the character.  That’s the key to the whole thing.

BD:    Is it more difficult to write purely instrumental music because there is no voice?

MDL:   It is a little bit more difficult for me.  My Piano Concerto was done here with the Chicago Symphony some years ago with Solti conducting, and I created a whole opera underneath
a whole subtext in my mind.  I proceeded to write something that became very individual with this character and that character, and everybody had their own idea of what they were doing.  They would fight with each other, and didn’t want to mix with each other.  I had the whole thing working for me in a dramatic way, so I came out with a concerto that was interesting.  It was a nice piece, and I still enjoy it.  The audience could let its mind float freely, and didn’t have to know what I knew, and even I would want to forget those ideas I had when I created it, when I listen to it.  For me, it was a sub-structure.  I had a bunch of characters, and I played with them.  They happened to be instruments that time.  I’ve written other orchestra pieces, and I’m doing one now for the Florida Philharmonic.  It will have Spanish flavors.  I always get tickled with Spanish idioms.  I don’t know why.  They strike me funny, somehow, and for that reason it will be an amusing piece.

BD:    Where is the balance between art and amusement?

MDL:   Let me say that all of music is theater.  If it is not theater, it doesn’t belong in a theater or a concert hall.  Even the most objective music is theater.  No one is going to say that someone listening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is not thinking theatrically or dramatically in some way.  They will.  My point is that you can’t divorce an audience from themselves.  You might be able to divorce them from something else, but not from themselves.  What their ears hear is what they’re going to carry away from that music.  That’s what they experience.  Music is theater!

BD:    Do you work on more than one piece at a time, or do you have just one thing going at a time?

MDL:   Normally it’s one thing.  They’re too deeply thought about, and too deeply felt for me to switch around.  I can laugh all the time, and I have a wonderful sense of humor, but it’s only because I have a very deep sense of tragedy.  That’s where humor comes from.  To switch back and forth in your life is all right, but when you’re writing, it becomes more difficult.  So, I generally stick to one piece.

BD:    In your daily life, everything impacts upon you.  Do we find all these things in your music?

MDL:   [Laughs]  That’s something a psychiatrist should answer!  Obviously, who I am, and what I think, and how my life is, reflect in everything I do
particularly my art.  So, I’d have to say that it does reflect in my music.  If everything is there I don’t know, but certainly the deepest felt things are there.  Those things go beyond saying.  To describe them is pointless, because that’s what music isan extension of my feeling.  If I could say it better in words I would, and I wouldn’t have to write the music.

BD:    What advice do you have for younger composers coming along today?

MDL:   You certainly ask hard questions, but this one is too general.  Give me a composer, and we’ll see what is needed.  I’d probably advise nine out of ten to go to business school and learn how to do something to make a living.  They’re not going to make it as composers.  It’s not easy at all to be a composer, but rather a fluke if you can get into it, and maintain some sort of life, and teach, or something like that.  Most don’t have the gift to do it.  They have the technical ease to do it, and the fluidity of writing, and know how to do it, but it all means nothing if you don’t have something in you that you can really express.  You must have something that is going to grab somebody immediately, and say something to them.  Otherwise, you have no business writing music.

BD:    Have you got that something?

MDL:   I don’t know.  You tell me when you listen to my music.  I hope I do, but I don’t like to make judgments about myself.  It thrills me to know that somebody else will respond.

*     *     *     *     *

BD:    Is composing fun?

MDL:   For me it is.  I enjoy it madly. I wouldn’t do it if I weren’t.  I’m not a masochist.  I really get a big kick out of it.  For me, it’s living every day on an intense level, which you can’t do all the time because it’s too hot.  It just tires you out.  Nobody wants to live like that, but I can do it for part of a day, and I do feel fulfilled after.

levy BD:    I assume you take at least a few days off and just plop after you’ve completed a work?

MDL:   Sure, but I haven’t had those few days in a long time since I started the revision of Masada.

BD:    Will the ink be dry by the rehearsals?

MDL:   Probably just!  I’m going in tomorrow before the first rehearsal to make a few more touches on the score.

BD:    So we come to one of my favorite questions for a composer.  How do you know when the thing is done?

MDL:   You never finish.  It’s like asking what is the Truth.  The Truth is at the end of time.  That’s when you really know everything.  Before then, you know only part of it, so no matter what piece I’m working on, I feel I know only part of that piece.  Someday I will be finished in another way.  It’s all part of one piece, and that piece is my life.  I just hope it lasts for a little longer.

BD:    What do you tell those who write biographical or analytical articles about you, or your music?

MDL:   Often you do something in terms of form or structure without thinking about it, and later read about it in a book.  Milton Cross wrote a whole long detailed analysis about Mourning without consulting me.  He created themes for this and that, and I can’t say that he was wrong.  Those things occur because you’re in those characters.  I would never in my life dream of making a bulletin board, and thinking I’ll make a theme for this character, and another for this second character, and when one is talking about the other, I’ll combine in such and such a way.  That would drive me nuts, and I wouldn’t know what I was doing anyway if I was working like that.

BD:    Should Milton Cross have come to consult you about this entry in his book?

MDL:   No!  I wouldn’t have been able to tell him anything, nor would I have wanted to.  But it’s always amusing to see what other people do with your stuff.

BD:    Every year the Met issues one of their Saturday afternoon broadcasts on records to help raise money for the company.  Should the performance of Mourning be among their future offerings?

MDL:   No, no!  It was broadcast in its first season, and unlike a musical which plays for a year out of town to work out all the bugs, I had maybe a month of rehearsal, and about a week with the orchestra, and it was on.  As soon as it opens, you see what the whole thing is, and you see where it needs to be tightened, and what you need to cut.  So, the broadcast doesn’t represent what the work was in its second season.  The chorus was cut out totally.  It was a boring waste of time, an artificial vestige of old opera that didn’t need to be there.  Scenes were tightened up all the way through.  A total of about thirty or forty minutes was cut out for the second season, and it was much better, much better.  When I look at it again, which I intend to do after I finish with this music and the next orchestral piece, I will give Mourning a real dirty look, and cut all the fat that I see in it.  I’ll also write it for a smaller orchestra.  It’s too big an orchestra to play in smaller theaters where it should now play.  I might let someone else do that orchestral reduction.  I’ll tell them what to do, and oversee it all, but the physical labor of it just takes too much time for me.  Smaller theaters have asked me for it, and have wanted me to reduce the orchestra, and I just don’t have the time to do that now.

BD:    Thank you for finding the time to be a composer.

MDL:   It wasn’t my choice.  It just happened.  I’m thrilled, and I love it, and I’ll do it until I can’t anymore.

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© 1987 Bruce Duffie

This conversation was recorded in Chicago on October 13, 1987.  It was transcribed and published in The Opera Journal, #3, 1992.  Portions were broadcast on WNIB in 1998.  This edition was made in 2020, and posted on this website at that time.  My thanks to British soprano Una Barry for her help in preparing this website presentation.

To see a full list (with links) of interviews which have been transcribed and posted on this website, click here.

Award - winning broadcaster Bruce Duffie was with WNIB, Classical 97 in Chicago from 1975 until its final moment as a classical station in February of 2001.  His interviews have also appeared in various magazines and journals since 1980, and he now continues his broadcast series on WNUR-FM.

You are invited to visit his website for more information about his work, including selected transcripts of other interviews, plus a full list of his guests.  He would also like to call your attention to the photos and information about his grandfather, who was a pioneer in the automotive field more than a century ago.  You may also send him E-Mail with comments, questions and suggestions.