Miss Havisham's Fire

Last updated

Miss Havisham's Fire is an opera in 2 acts by composer Dominick Argento with an English language libretto by John Olon-Scrymgeour. The work is loosely based on Charles Dickens' 1861 novel Great Expectations , and centers on an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Aurelia Havisham. Commissioned by the New York City Opera, the work premiered on March 22, 1979, at the David H. Koch Theater at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. [1]


Miss Havisham's Fire was initially intended to be a farewell vehicle for soprano Beverly Sills, but she pulled out of the project due to illness and was replaced by Rita Shane. The opera received negative to mixed reviews in the press at its premiere and was not mounted again for more than 20 years. Argento revised it into a one-act monodrama entitled Miss Havisham's Wedding Night which Minnesota Opera premiered on May 1, 1981, at the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, conducted by Philip Brunelle. [2] It was performed under the baton of Gil Rose at Carnegie Hall on November 9, 2017, in a concert by New York City Opera celebrating the composer's 90th birthday. [3]

In 2001 the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis revived the work in a new version by Argento that shortened the opera by more than an hour and made improvements to the work's dramatic structure. This production received a much more positive response from the press. [4] [5]


Role Voice type Premiere cast, 22 March 1979 [1]
(Conductor: Julius Rudel)
Aurelia Havisham, an elderly recluse soprano Rita Shane
Estella Drummle, as a woman of 1859–60 mezzo-soprano Susanne Marsee
Phillip Pirrip, as a man of 1859–60 baritone Alan Titus
Grace-Helen Broome, as the former governess to Miss Havishammezzo-soprano Elaine Bonazzi
Old Orlick, caretaker at Satis House bass Paul Ukena
Young Aurelia Havishamsoprano Gianna Rolandi
Young Estella Drummle, adopted daughter of Miss Havisham treble Lorna Wallach
Young Phillip Pirrip (Pip), as a poor boy of 1846–8 boy soprano Robert Sapolsky
Young Grace-Helen Broome, governess to Miss Havishamsoprano Martha Sheil
Young OrlickbassJames Brewer
Jaggers, Miss Havisham's solicitorbass Richard Cross
Bentley Drummle, man about town tenor John Lankston
The Examiner, officiating at the inquest bass-baritone Ralph Bassett
Sarah Pocket, relative of Miss Havisham contralto RoseMarie Freni
Camilla Pocket, relative of Miss HavishamsopranoMartha Thigpen
Raymond Pocket, relative of Miss HavishamtenorJonathan Green
Pumblechook, Uncle to Pipspoken roleWilliam Ledbetter
First maidsilent roleGwenlynn Little
Second maidsilent roleEunice Hill
Chorus: guests at the Assembly Ball and servants

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carlisle Floyd</span> American composer (1926–2021)

Carlisle Sessions Floyd was an American composer primarily known for his operas. These stage works, for which he wrote the librettos, typically engage with themes from the American South, particularly the Post-civil war South, the Great Depression and rural life. His best known opera, Susannah, is based on a story from the Biblical Apocrypha, transferred to contemporary rural Tennessee, and written for a Southern dialect. It was premiered at Florida State University in 1955, with Phyllis Curtin in the title role. When it was staged at the New York City Opera the following year, the reception was initially mixed; some considered it a masterpiece, while others degraded it as a 'folk opera'. Subsequent performances led to an increase in Susannah's reputation and the opera quickly became among the most performed of American operas.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Miss Havisham</span> Fictional character in Charles Dickens Great Expectations

Miss Havisham is a character in the Charles Dickens novel Great Expectations (1861). She is a wealthy spinster, once jilted at the altar, who insists on wearing her wedding dress for the rest of her life. She lives in a ruined mansion with her adopted daughter, Estella. Dickens describes her as looking like "the witch of the place".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dominick Argento</span> American composer (1927–2019)

Dominick Argento was an American composer known for his lyric operatic and choral music. Among his best known pieces are the operas Postcard from Morocco, Miss Havisham's Fire, The Masque of Angels, and The Aspern Papers. He also is known for the song cycles Six Elizabethan Songs and From the Diary of Virginia Woolf; the latter earned him the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1975. In a predominantly tonal context, his music freely combines tonality, atonality and a lyrical use of twelve-tone writing. None of Argento's music approaches the experimental, stringent avant-garde fashions of the post-World War II era.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Steve Reich and Musicians</span> Musical ensemble founded by American composer Steve Reich

Steve Reich and Musicians, sometimes credited as the Steve Reich Ensemble, is a musical ensemble founded and led by the American composer Steve Reich. The group has premiered and performed many of Reich's works both nationally and internationally. In 1999, Reich received a Grammy Award for "Best Small Ensemble Performance " for the ensemble's performance of Music for 18 Musicians.

Boosey & Hawkes is a British music publisher purported to be the largest specialist classical music publisher in the world. Until 2003, it was also a major manufacturer of brass, string and woodwind musical instruments.

Jack Hamilton Beeson was an American composer. He was known particularly for his operas, the best known of which are Lizzie Borden, Hello Out There!, and The Sweet Bye and Bye.

Christopher Chapman Rouse III was an American composer. Though he wrote for various ensembles, Rouse is primarily known for his orchestral compositions, including a Requiem, a dozen concertos, and six symphonies. His work received numerous accolades, including the Kennedy Center Friedheim Award, the Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition, and the Pulitzer Prize for Music. He also served as the composer-in-residence for the New York Philharmonic from 2012 to 2015.

Aleksandra Vrebalov is a Serbian composer based in New York City.

Rita Shane was an American coloratura soprano.

Mark Grey is an American classical music composer, sound designer and sound engineer.

Richard Cross is an American bass-baritone who had an active international opera career from the late 1950s through the 1990s. Possessing a rich and warm voice, Cross sang a broad repertoire that encompassed works from a wide variety of musical periods and styles. He currently teaches on the voice faculties of the Yale School of Music, the Juilliard School, and the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Paul Ukena was an American operatic baritone and musical theatre actor who had an active career from the 1940s through the 1970s. After beginning his career entertaining American troops as a part of the Special Services during World War II, his first critical success was as the baritone soloist in the American premiere of Frederick Delius's Requiem in 1950. He was one of the founding members of the NBC Opera Theatre, a company he performed with throughout the 1950s in such productions as Benjamin Britten's Billy Budd and the world premiere of Norman Dello Joio's The Trial at Rouen.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">David T. Little</span> American composer and drummer (born 1978)

David T. Little is a Grammy-nominated American composer, record producer, and drummer known for his operatic, orchestral, and chamber works, most notably his operas JFK,Soldier Songs, and Dog Days which was named a standout opera of recent decades by The New York Times. He is the artistic director of Newspeak, an eight-piece amplified ensemble that explores the boundaries between rock and classical music, and is a member of the composition faculty at Mannes School of Music.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Evan Mack</span> American classical composer

Evan Mack is an American composer, librettist and pianist. He is "considered one of the most gifted composers of his generation by industry insiders." He is currently published with Hal Leonard, Alfred, and KDP Publishing.

Martha Sheil is an American operatic soprano who made her professional opera debut as the Contessa in Le nozze di Figaro at the New York City Opera under the baton of Julius Rudel. She went on to be a professor of voice at the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance for over 30 years before her retirement in 2015.

Elaine Bonazzi was an American operatic mezzo-soprano who had an active international career from the 1950s through the 1990s. A singer with an unusually broad repertoire that encompassed both classical and contemporary works, she notably created roles in the world premieres of operas by composers Dominick Argento, David Carlson, Carlisle Floyd, Gian Carlo Menotti, Thomas Pasatieri, and Ned Rorem. In the United States she was particularly active with the New York City Opera, the Santa Fe Opera, and the Washington National Opera.

Odyssey Opera is an opera company based in Boston, Massachusetts. Founded in 2013 by Gil Rose, it typically begins its season with a concert performance of a large, rarely heard opera in the fall, continuing the season with fully staged renditions of early, classical, and contemporary opera. The company is known for performing "offbeat, neglected repertoire, with a special nod to those never, or rarely, performed in Boston" and New England.

Christopher Sly is an opera in one act and two scenes and an interlude by composer Dominick Argento. The work uses an English language libretto by John Gay Manlove that is based on William Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Commissioned by the Mu Phi Epsilon fraternity, the opera was given its world premiere at the Scott Hall Theater at the University of Minnesota on 31 May 1963 under the baton of William Johnson. The premiere cast included tenor Vern Sutton as the Lord.

<i>La Commedia</i>

La Commedia is an opera in five parts composed by Louis Andriessen. A retelling of Dante's Divine Comedy, the multi-language libretto was constructed by Andriessen using extracts from Dante's poem as well as several other sources including the Old Testament and the poetry of Joost van den Vondel. Andriessen describes the work as a "film opera" and collaborated closely with film director Hal Hartley in its development. La Commedia premiered on 12 June 2008 at the Koninklijk Theater Carré in Amsterdam.

John Lankston was an American tenor and actor who had a career in opera and musical theater from the 1950s through the 2000s. After making his Broadway debut in Redhead (1959), he went on to create the roles of Adolph and the Ziegfeld Tenor in Jule Styne's Funny Girl (1963) in which he was a featured soloist with Barbra Streisand. For his work, he and the rest of the main cast were awarded the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album at the 7th Annual Grammy Awards. He was a regular performer with the New York City Opera from 1966 to 2001. His greatest success with the NYCO was his creation of the quintuple role of Voltaire/Pangloss/Businessman/Governor/Gambler in the 1982 revival of Leonard Bernstein's Candide which was directed by Hal Prince and filmed for national broadcast on PBS's Live from Lincoln Center. The company later recorded the production on disc, and Langston and the rest of the artists involved were awarded the Grammy Award for Best Opera Recording in 1987.


  1. 1 2 Harold C. Schonberg (March 23, 1979). "City Opera: Miss Havisham" (PDF). The New York Times . p. 45.
  2. Miss Havisham's Wedding Night, Boosey & Hawkes
  3. "Dominick Argento at 90 Celebration at Carnegie Hall", Boosey & Hawkes, August 2017
  4. John von Rhein (July 8, 2001). "St. Louis rediscovers an operatic stepchild". Chicago Tribune .
  5. William R. Braun (June 2001). "Rekindling Miss Havisham's Fire". Opera News .