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Theodore Morrison

Publisher: G. Schirmer

Oscar (2011)
Text Writer
John Cox & Theodore Morrison
G Schirmer Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Sub Category
Grand Opera
Year Composed
2 Hours 30 Minutes
SATB chorus
S, Ct, T, Bar
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Programme Note
Theodore Morrison Oscar (2011)
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First Performance:
July 27, 2013
Santa Fe Opera
Santa Fe, NM

Libretto (English):
John Cox & Theodore Morrison

Cast List:
   ADA LEVERSON: Soprano
   OSCAR WILDE: Countertenor
   WALT WHITMAN: Baritone
   LORD ALFRED (BOSIE) DOUGLAS: silent role (dancer)

Short synopsis:
Oscar Wilde was put on trial and imprisoned under charges of "gross indecency" related to his love affair with Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas). The opera portrays this period in Wilde's life including his trial and imprisonment in Reading Gaol, through to his exile in France at the end of his life. The libretto was crafted from Wilde's documents, writings, poems, letters, and remarks written about Wilde by his contemporaries.

Oscar Wilde was put on trial and imprisoned under charges of "gross indecency" related to his love affair with Bosie (Lord Alfred Douglas). The opera, portrays this period in Wilde's life through to his exile in France at the end of his life. The libretto is built from Wilde's documents, writings, poems, letters, and remarks written about Wilde by his contemporaries.

The opera begins in the period while Oscar is awaiting sentencing and living with his friend and confidant Ada Leverson in London. Bosie, Oscar's lover (portrayed by a dancer), under pressure from Oscar, leaves the country, though he haunts Oscar's imagination throughout the opera.

Ada puts Oscar up in her children's nursery where they are joined by their friend Frank Harris. At first the innocent gaiety of their surroundings brightens the mood. Drinks are served and playful repartee prevails. Then the influential Frank reveals that he has made arrangements for Oscar to abscond bail, flee the country and escape the inevitable guilty verdict. After much agonizing, especially over his two young children, Oscar refuses to run away. The only honorable course is to face his accusers. In what essentially becomes a show trial the nursery morphs into the courtroom and the toys enact the proceedings as farce. The "guilty" verdict is handed down and Oscar is sentenced to hard labor for two years.

Act II portrays Oscar's time spent as a prisoner in Reading Gaole and draws heavily on the text from Wilde's famous poem "The Ballad of Reading Gaol". He is rapidly broken in body and spirit by the prison regime. In his feverish weakness he suffers a fall during chapel service and injures his head. Oscar is sent to the infirmary where he is able to talk with other sick prisoners, discovering levels of simple humanity that restore his spirits.

Nearing the end of his sentence Oscar is allowed writing materials, more books and to work in the garden. Ada comes to discuss plans for his return to freedom. Alas, his request to join a closed Christian community has been refused. It will be some time before society is prepared to tolerate his return. Indeed, he will have to pass over to the next life before that process can truly begin.

View Full Score - Act II

  • 08 JUL 2017
    The Barns at Wolf Trap, Vienna, VA
    Wolf Trap Opera
    Emily Senturia, conductor
  • 06 FEB 2015
    Philadelphia, PA
    Opera Philadelphia

    Other Dates:
    8,11,13 February - Philadelphia, PA
  • 27 JUL 2013
    Oscar World Premiere
    Santa Fe, NM
    Santa Fe Opera
    Kevin Newbury, stage director; Evan Rogister, conductor

    Other Dates:
    31 July; 9,12,17 August - Santa Fe, NM

Now the Santa Fe Opera has unveiled Oscar by Theodore Morrison, a dramatisation of one of the most heartrending strokes of ill-fortune ever to befall a creative artist: Oscar Wilde’s trial and imprisonment for “gross indecency”. The libretto by the composer and the veteran opera director John Cox, which draws heavily on Wilde’s writings, opens as Wilde awaits a verdict and goes on to relate the trial itself; the second of its two fast-moving acts depicts Wilde’s travails in Reading Gaol.The opera is hardly an exercise in gloom, however. Wildean Witticisms run through its text, the trial is depicted sarcastically and in the opera’s most moving moments Wilde’s imprisonment is alleviated by uplifting encounters with prisoners and a warden who befriend him. Lord Alfred Douglas, whose affair with Wilde sparked all the trouble, is inventively portrayed as a dancer.
George Loomis, Financial Times,04/08/2013
Morrison captures the rhythms and inflection of the words in the most natural, grateful vocal lines imaginable. Neo-romantic orchestral writing has a strong cinematic — and sometimes frankly illustrative — quality....Rich in associations, knowingly staged by Kevin Newbury, with David Korins’ evocative sets and apt costumes by David C. Woolard, this is one of the most promising new operas in years.
Scott Cantrell, Dallas News,02/08/2013
As I watched Theodore Morrison’s wonderful new opera, Oscar, last evening here at the Santa Fe Opera, it seemed to me “The Happy Prince” might serve as a metaphor for discussing what I was seeing and hearing. With a strong original libretto written by John Cox, and featuring the incomparable countertenor David Daniels in the title role, this is a powerfully moving opera about a worthy man of genius who suffers much, is very nearly martyred and (in Cox’s vision at least) is ultimately admitted into the pantheon of immortal greatness.…Dealing as it does with themes of intolerance and persecution, Oscar is, to be sure, a story for our time….It is impossible to know just what most opera-goers expect when they come to Santa Fe to see this important new work … What they get is a very serious, almost tragic work with flashes of surreal comedy.
David Gregson,,01/08/2013
Effectively paced across its two acts, with a surprising variety of moods and an easy-to-grasp tonal score, Oscar won a warm reception from the audience.
George Loomis , Musical America,01/08/2013
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