If there was ever a life that should be made into an opera it is that of America’s greatest architect Frank Lloyd Wright. For after all, operas are nothing but drama of great proportions with scandalous goings on in-between. Although I truly admire Wright as an architect, having been fortunate enough to visit a few properties of his during my travels, as a father and a husband, not so much, Many people don’t know that Wright was married not once but three times. His often “playboy” style life caused him and the women connected with him to be the subject of immense gossip and scrutiny, straight out of the pages of a script for a soap opera, or even worse, a Spanish telenovela. (The latter is even more drama-laced than the American soap opera, if you can imagine.) However, for Wright nothing was as scandalous as when he ran off with a woman by the name of Mamah Cheney, a married neighbor of his and the first Mrs. F.L.W. back in stolid and conservative (according to Wright) Oak Park, Illinois. The scandal grew to even more epic proportions when Mamah was murdered by ax and her children and four others died in a fire at Taliesin, Wright’s estate in Wisconsin, the horrific crime having been committed by a deranged servant.
Of the three Wright properties I’ve visited, none had a physical location as spectacular as that of Fallingwater. Although many are fortunate enough to have visited it, how many can say they’ve seen an opera performed there? Yes, that’s right, this weekend on the evenings of June 7 and 8-the same weekend as Wright’s 146th birthday (and mine as well I might add, although I’m not nearly as old) the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh will perform “Shining Brow,” on Fallingwater’s famous exterior terraces. The audience will be viewing it from seating areas on a path and a bridge. The American opera has music by Daron Hagen (the recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship among numerous other accolades) and libretto by Paul Muldoon, an acclaimed Irish poet And lest you think that this doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, this will be the first time the most famous residence in the state of Pennsylvania will have ever hosted an opera. It will showcase the 11 most turbulent years of Wright’s life, beginning with Wright’s introduction with the Cheneys, his dalliances with Mrs. Cheney, and her subsequent death, as well as exploring his relationship with architect Louis Sullivan, his mentor and friend.
|“Photo courtesy of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy”|
The two act opera features five performers and seven musicians. While tickets are not cheap ($350), by all accounts it seems like a once in a lifetime experience. Is it really so special when Elton John goes on tour anymore, considering how many decades he’s been touring? Yet some people wouldn’t think twice about spending that same amount to see him live. Catching a performance at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City-well, tickets for such an event are hardly cheap, especially for prime seating, but it’s still just an indoor venue. But to watch an opera live at Fallingwater-that is undoubtedly something that doesn’t happen every year.
|Pittsburgh’s Lara Lynn Cottrill as Mamah Cheney with Kevin Kees as Frank Lloyd Wright in Shining Brow (photo by
Performances for Shining Brow begin at 7:30 PM with audience members invited to a reception at 6:30 PM (a rain date is in place for June 9 if one of the performances is cancelled). Light summer fare and wine will be offered before the performance, with the chance to meet the actors and musicians following the show for champagne, dessert and a birthday toast to none other than Wright himself. A chartered bus is available at a cost of $35 per person for the Saturday performance that will leave from the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh facilities in the Lawrenceville section of the city. (Having driven down to Fallingwater myself, I can say that it’s really out in the middle of nowhere and driving back to the city at night is something I can’t imagine, so the $35 seems money well spent.)
Although I discovered these unique performances a bit too late for it to be approved by “in-house accounting” (i.e. me), it did seem like it would have been an incredible birthday to remember, all the more that Wright and I were born 118 years and a day apart. But if you’re like me, hopefully you can catch a performance when it is performed next month at the Twentieth Century Club in the Oakland neighborhood, home to the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh’s SummerFest 2013.
For tickets to “Shining Brow”s Fallingwater performances, click here.