Thu June 16, 2011
Bill Clinton Opera Premieres In New York
By Michael Hibblen
Little Rock, AR – This weekend an opera that looks at the Arkansas childhood of future president Bill Clinton will premiere in New York City. Michael Hibblen from KUAR in Little Rock spoke with the woman behind the project.
The opera has been five years in the making and is set in Bill Clinton's boyhood hometown of Hot Springs, Arkansas.
Arkansas musician Bonnie Montgomery says while reading Clinton's autobiography, she realized his childhood had all the elements of a dramatic opera and began working on the show.
"It's a story of a coming of age," Montgomery says. "It's a snapshot really of daily life in Hot Springs in 1959. But it is also sort of a compilation of events that happened in real life to Bill Clinton as a child."
At that time, he still went by the name Billy Blythe, before adopting his step-father's last name.
"All the action in the opera is taken from his autobiography or his mother's autobiography. It's basically a story of family relationships, community relationships and there is a crisis point in the opera where a young Billy at age 14 has to grow up really quickly and make decisions on the fly and come into his own," Montgomery explains.
That's when the young man stands up to his abusive drunken step-father.
Montgomery staged a few scenes last fall in Little Rock, which is where this recording of the show comes from. Sunday will be the first time the entire opera has been performed. It's being done by a small New York opera troop called the Metropolitan Opera Project at the Medicine Show Theater. Montgomery has not been directly involved in the preparations.
"Oh I think they're going to do a fantastic job," Montgomery said. "I can't wait to see it come to life. This is going to be a very special moment for me to see it in its entirety for the first time on the stage so I think they're going to do a great job. They're all pros and they're all really into new works and modern opera and American works so I really think it's going to be fabulous."
Montgomery manages to weave ragtime and folk traditions into an opera structure as she tells of the events that helped shape the future president. The performances will be Sunday and Monday at the theater, which is in New York's Hells Kitchen neighborhood.
"We're really excited to be part of this sort of trend in opera that's called 'pub opera' We want to bring opera into non-traditional operatic venues." Montgomery continues, "So we're just excited to bring opera to a new audience and have it in a new venue. And that's another one of the similarities that we have with this troop in New York because they're also into it. They sell Pabst Blue Ribbon in the theater and the admission is five dollars so it's opera for the people for hopefully a young crowd that may not be interested in opera otherwise."
Montgomery has other plans for her opera and hopes to eventually stage performances of the entire show here.
"To do like a full Arkansas premiere hopefully within the next year or so and also I'm working with a professor at the University of Memphis to make a professional recording of the opera all the way through so that's in the works also. So that may be some kind of performance also," Montgomery says.