Several years ago, a colleague suggested I take a look at plays by Norman Corwin. I’d not heard of Corwin and was quickly fascinated by his writing style: no-nonsense, clear, and full of colorful images. I was especially drawn to a group of radio plays. These included The Anatomy of Sound, which is the springboard for High Fidelity Opera.
Corwin’s point of the power of sound to evoke whole worlds—sometimes obvious and sometimes obscure, but frequently of interest—raised questions for me about why opera on radio was so popular for so long, especially The Metropolitan Opera broadcasts.
When offered the chance to direct here in Kansas City, I suggested an idea I’d fiddled with, linking radio opera with Corwin’s The Anatomy of Sound. What would it be like to be in a radio studio, hearing words and sounds—and seeing the people creating those sounds? And then to hear and see “radio opera” in the same style?
Menotti’s The Old Maid and the Thief was written for radio, so it was a natural choice for this experiment, and Barber’s A Hand of Bridge, which is so rooted in sound, seemed a natural pairing. Since both were created when radio was very much alive, the matches were made.
I have intercut and pasted The Anatomy of Sound to create an environment for the two operas, and to challenge the audience to put their own imaginations to work. Listen (and watch) closely, and as a child can imagine a whole world from the sound of crickets, I hope you find worlds in these sounds.
Edward Berkeley is Director of the Aspen Opera Center, on The Juilliard School faculty, and Artistic Director of New York City’s Willow Cabin Theater Company, where he directed Tony- and Drama Desk-nominated Wilder, Wilder, Wilder. Other directing credits include Béatrice et Bénédict with the New York Philharmonic, El Niño with Atlanta Symphony, and engagements at the Library of Congress, Williamstown Theater Festival, and Old Globe Theater.
Image: Atwater Kent, standing by radio, and seven other people listening to the radio, in the Hamilton Hotel, Washington, D.C., circa 1930-1932, Library of Congress Control Number 94501550, Reproduction Number LC-USZ62-109738 (b&w film copy neg.). Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication.