Great news received first hand from Jack Van Zandt about the Award for the production of his new Jazz Opera!
Jack Van Zandt, his partner librettist Jill Freeman and their team have received a National Endowment for the Arts Award to create and produce on film for streaming their multimedia, a monodramedy, The New Frontier: An Atomic Age Jazz Opera. The work will be produced under the auspices of California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB) in association with California State University Fullerton CSUF).
In The New Frontier, Van Zandt, Freeman, soprano Stacey Fraser and director Terry Smith team up with theatrical production specialists and an ensemble led by Grammy-winning pianist Nadia Shpachenko to create a tragicomic musical theater work that explores aspects of life growing up in the 1950s and 60s against the backdrop of the atomic bomb and the daily Cold War threat of nuclear annihilation. The piece consists of a series of songs each portraying an archetypal or real character from the era. Characters played by Fraser include a home fallout shelter saleswoman, classroom teacher instructing her students in “duck and cover” drills, mad atomic physicist, the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, McCarthyist anti-communist crusader, Hiroshima survivor, KGB agent, American “Mutually Assured Destruction” political strategist, pop singer, etc.
The original musical style is influenced by angular 1950s and 60s jazz and art music, especially cool jazz, hard bop and incorporates elements of the music of Darmstadt and American composers. The ensemble of trumpet, saxophone, vibraphone, marimba, drum kit, electric and acoustic pianos and bass evokes the music of Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, Wayne Shorter, Eric Doplhy and others. The libretto is influenced by the style of the Beat poets as well as the works of Irish playwright Samuel Beckett, the writings of French existentialists and the advertising language of Madison Avenue. The multimedia production includes newsreel footage and Civil Defense films, TV and radio, photographs, artwork, advertisements and political cartoons from the period. Video will be partly shot on location, including the Trinity site in New Mexico.
In producing the opera, the artists will engage with the university’s students through workshops, educational activities and music performances of the new work. The project grant also supports the stage production of the work at CSU San Bernardino and CSU Fullerton in 2022 and in other venues throughout CA and Santa Fe, New Mexico. The New Frontier will be co-produced by the Beyond Opera Collective that is directed by Van Zandt and fellow CE composer Anne LeBaron.
Van Zandt has made an arrangement of two of the character songs from The New Frontier for soprano with a trio of vibraphone, piano and bass. The score and parts for this set of two songs are now available from CE and a recording of the pieces along with video from some of the period newsreel and Civil Defense footage may be streamed on Van Zandt’s YouTube channel.