It is officially spring! That means our annual gala is just around the corner (next week), and the Festival is only a few months away. This month, Rob helps you prepare to experience the modern masterpiece Elizabeth Cree. There’s loads of fantastic music to experience in this edition of Rob’s Ramblings, so grab a cup of tea, find a comfy spot, and settle in! If you want to jump straight to the music, click here to listen to every piece Rob references in his blog this month.

 Can you imagine?

Composite | Igor Stravinsky caricature, Miguel Covarrubias, artist (1925). Retrieved from the Library of Congress / Alice Busch Opera Theater, photo by Brent DeLanoy

What would it be like if Igor Stravinsky, Jean Cocteau, Samuel Barber, or W. H. Auden made an appearance at the Festival? Imagine having the opportunity to hear them speak about their art, their life, their inspiration. What kinds of questions would you ask? Would you work up the nerve to ask for a selfie? How would it feel to meet these creative giants in the flesh?

While I know both Mark Campbell and Kevin Puts would humbly protest at such comparisons, you should be enormously excited that we have creative artists of their stature visiting the Festival this summer. Both are preeminent voices in the contemporary American musical and operatic landscape, with some of the most important operas of recent years to their names. The last opera of theirs we performed back in 2018, Silent Night, was not only a smash hit for Glimmerglass but also won them the Pulitzer Prize. Mark’s opera As One was North America’s most-produced contemporary opera for several years. Kevin’s concerto for string trio and orchestra, Contact, won the GRAMMY for best classical composition in 2023.

This year, Kevin is Musical America’s Composer of the Year. The Metropolitan Opera will revive his latest opera, The Hours, in May, just a year after its premiere (and yes, you should absolutely see it!). Here’s a taste of the exquisite final trio.

(L to R) Composer Kevin Puts, Librettist Mark Campbell, and Glimmerglass Dramaturg Kelley Rourke during a Show Talk at the 2018 Festival | Photo by Karli Cadel

Perhaps their personal favorite collaboration to date, however, is Elizabeth Creeand with good reason. It is impeccably crafted, delightfully macabre, and riveting from start to finish; not a moment is superfluous, and its final minutes are astonishingly brilliant. Mark’s libretto is the perfect forensic teaser, throwing you back and forth through a series of flashbacks as you puzzle your way to the bottom of this Victorian murder mystery. Not once does he give too much away, and you’ll want to see it more than once just to be sure you caught all the clues. Mark’s quicksilver music turns on a dime, perfectly matching the drama’s every twist and turn. And did I mention how extraordinary our cast is?


It is perfectly natural to be hesitant to commit to a new or unknown piece. What if we don’t like it? What if we don’t get it? But all music was ‘new music’ at one point, and we’ve all experienced the delight of discovering a great piece for the first time. That awe can only be achieved by taking a chance on something new. And, at Glimmerglass, you can share that joy of discovery with everyone around you!

One way to get over our “newbie nerves” (in any situation) is to prepare! Opera always rewards a little advance effort. The best ones cram so much emotion and detail into such a short time that you can study them for decades and still find new things to wonder at.

The Limehouse Golem Promotional Poster | Poster distributed by Lionsgate UK

It’s easy to get to know the plot of Elizabeth Cree. If you don’t mind spoilers, you can pick up a copy of the excellent book Mark Campbell based the opera on, Peter Ackroyd’s The Trial of Elizabeth Cree. Or easier still, watch the 2016 movie based on the book, The Limehouse Golem (starring the always magnetic Bill Nighy).

But if you like surprises and want to solve the puzzle yourself, why not spend some time in the world of Kevin’s kaleidoscopically beautiful and varied music before you get to the theater?

Kevin is such a fine opera composer because he can effortlessly turn his hand to a wide variety of styles, giving his music a vast range of dramatic gestures and emotional possibilities. All these different influences are melded seamlessly into his unique voice without ever feeling derivative; his music embodies the sound of our multi-media world. Let me show you a few of those sounds now—take your time and enjoy!


Kevin’s writing is sometimes ‘minimalist,’ characterized by deceptively simple repeated figures and patterns that can have a propulsive or a hypnotic effect. The patterns often vary slightly as they repeat, gently rubbing against time and producing shimmering effects. Sometimes, the effect is overwhelmingly beautiful. Here are some examples of minimalism I love, followed by Kevin’s gorgeous song “Evening” for comparison, performed here by Renée Fleming and Yannick Nezet-Séguin.

Philip Glass: Étude No. 2

Arvo Pärt: Spiegel im Spiegel

Kevin Puts: Evening


Another thing Kevin likes to do is to put two unrelated chords on top of each other so we’re musically in two worlds at once. This is called ‘bitonality’. It’s not a disease, though it may sound like one—it’s a technique that’s been around for centuries in one form or another, especially in other cultures, although it started coming into its own in the West over a hundred years ago. That groovy dude Stravinsky made it fashionable with groundbreaking pieces like his ballet “Petrushka” (I bet you know the Russian Dance at 7:00).

Igor Stravinsky: Petrushka

Here’s Milhaud putting bitonality on full display—a piano piece where the right hand is in B major, and the left is in G major, giving the piece an exotic feel.

Darius Milhaud: Saudades do brasil

Now here’s Glimmerglass alum Allegra De Vita performing Elizabeth Cree’s first aria, “We Had One Room,” which uses bitonality to describe the painful memory of her abusive mother at around 1:25.

Kevin puts: “We Had One Room” from Elizabeth Cree


Once you get several voices on stage simultaneously, you have another sound at your disposal—the chorus. No surprise, Kevin is also a master of choral sonorities, creating lush, rich sounds by using clusters of notes close together. Those of you who sang in choirs in high school might remember pieces like Morten Lauridsen’s “O magnum mysterium” or Eric Whitacre’s “Lux aurumque,” which use the same technique of stacking up tone clusters.

Morten Lauridsen: “O Magnum Mysterium”

Eric Whitacre: “Lux Aurumque”

Now listen to Kevin’s “If I Were a Swan” or the beautiful chorus “Sleep” from Silent Night.

Kevin Puts: “If I Were A Swan”

Kevin Puts: “Sleep” from Silent Night


Of course, in Elizabeth Cree, Kevin doesn’t have quite so many voices to play with—but enough to showcase some fabulous ensemble writing. In many ways, the score reminds me of Puccini’s ensemble comedy Gianni Schicchi (even if you can’t pronounce this title, I promise you know the big aria!)—all manner of small musical groups arise naturally depending on the action onstage.

Here is a fine ensemble moment Puccini weaves—it’s called the “Dressing Trio,” where three ladies have fun dressing someone up in disguise.

PuCCINI: “Dressing Trio” FROM Gianni Schicchi

Now, here’s a beautifully wrought quartet from Cree, “We’re Your Family Now.”

Kevin Puts: “We’re Your Family Now” From Elizabeth Cree


Stravinsky broke more molds with another masterpiece, “The Rite of Spring.” Not only does it also use bitonality, but it did things with rhythm that altered music forever.

Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring

You can hear all the techniques and tricks I’ve discussed above, including plenty of those unpredictable Stravinskian rhythms, in Kevin’s unmissable, GRAMMY-winning piece, “Contact.” I cannot recommend strongly enough that you take in the whole piece. It’s just extraordinary. That last movement – is that Klezmer, Arabic, American folk, Copland, Stravinsky? Whatever it is, it’s my jam!

Kevin Puts: Contact

Take the opportunity while you have it!

And to think, the artist who wrote that amazing piece above will be here with the extraordinary wordsmith and dramatist Mark Campbell and our exceptional director Alison Moritz on July 26. You can catch them discussing their work and Elizabeth Cree during our Pipeline Talk at the Otesaga Resort Hotel Ballroom at 3 pm. Mark and Kevin will also be at our Gala in NYC next week on April 3 (there is still time to grab a ticket, and it’s one of the best ways to donate to the Festival).

You can be in the room with creators we’ll talk about 50, even 100 years from now. You aren’t going to pass up an opportunity like that, are you?

One Thought on “Rob's Ramblings - Giants in our Midst”

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  1. From your emeritus chorister of the 466 performances. I was doing the low C# in the Whitacre with no sweat. I hope you have the cops low Fs in Pirates covered as well. Chronic mobility problems persist, but I’ll try to make said Pirates. After all, I did Edward many times. Once again, break a seasonal leg.

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