• John Harbison
  • Aria: Song for the Rainy Season (2002)

  • Associated Music Publishers Inc (World)
  • ob, cl, bn, hn, pf
  • mezzo soprano
  • 10 min
  • English; Elizabeth Bishop

Programme Note

Composer note:

In composing three operas I have experience many of the highs and lows that await those of us crazy enough to face the public in that medium. Ever since I began composing, ideas for operas have pursued me, most of which I have successfully resisted. I don’t know if I will ever write the opera based on the inadvertently dramatic life of poet Elizabeth Bishop for which Aria is a preview. Nevertheless, "North and South” and "Flashes and Illuminations”, my song cycles of the 90’s, both contain settings of Bishops poems, and although song and opera are very different enterprises some of their music bears on scenes in the possible opera. Aria uses Bishop poetry, by no means the norm in the opera, and compresses two phases of a crucial scene. As a kind of prelude the mezzo-soprano sings "close, close all night,” part of a duet in the opera between Bishop and her longtime Brazilian lover Lota de Maceda Soares. The state of conjugal understanding so clearly stated here is about to dissolve. Bishop’s poem Song for the Rainy Season, is at once a grand and subtle rendering of the sovereignty and ubiquity of nature and eventual collapse of Bishops’ relationship with Soares. At first muddled in the cocoon of the jungle rainforest, the singer is gradually more exposed to the elements and their eventual assault on serenity. I am grateful to Janice Felty and New York Philmusica for causing this piece to emerge from my constant opera cauldron for a moment of scrutiny.

--John Harbison