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From Page to Stage: Fellow Travelers with Arizona Opera, Gregory Spears, Greg Pierce, Kevin Newbury, Thomas Mallon

Date(s): Thursday, November 7, 2019, 7:00 p.m.
Marston Exploration Theater, Arizona State University, 781 E Terrace Rd, Tempe, AZ 85287
Discussion, Q&A
Genre and Form(s): 
Cost: Free

About this Event

In an event with the Arizona Opera and ASU’s Center for Jewish Studies, School of Music, and Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing, the composer, librettist, and director of Fellow Travelers, along with the author of the book in which it’s based, will sit down to discuss the process of generating an impactful story, translating it to an opera score, and bringing it to life on stage. The discussion will be followed by a reception with light refreshments.


About the Opera

It's 1950s Washington, D.C.: a world of bare-knuckled ideology and secret dossiers, dominated by personalities like Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson, and Joe McCarthy. Enter Timothy Laughlin, a recent college graduate and devout Catholic eager to join the crusade against Communism. An encounter with a handsome State Department official, Hawkins Fuller, leads to Tim's first job and, after Fuller's advances, his first love affair.

As McCarthy mounts a desperate bid for power and internal investigations focus on “sexual subversives” in the government, Tim and Fuller find it ever more dangerous to navigate their double lives. Moving between the diplomatic world of Foggy Bottom and NATO's front line in Europe, Fellow Travelers is a searing historical novel infused with political drama, unexpected humor, and genuine heartbreak.

To learn more about Fellow Travelers, visit Arizona Opera's website at

About the Author

Photographo f Gregory Spears

Gregory Spears writes music that blends aspects of romanticism, minimalism, and early music. His work has been called "astonishingly beautiful" (New York Times), "coolly entrancing" (The New Yorker), and "some of the most beautifully unsettling music to appear in recent memory" (The Boston Globe). In recent seasons he has been commissioned by The Lyric Opera of Chicago, The Cincinnati Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Seraphic Fire, and the Jack Quartet among others.

Spears' most recent evening length opera, Fellow Travelers, premiered this summer at Cincinnati Opera in a ten-performance run. It was hailed as "one of the most accomplished new operas I have seen in recent years" (Chicago Tribune) and an opera that "seems assured of lasting appeal" (The New York Times). The premiere of Fellow Travelers was also recently included in The New York Times' Best in Classical Music for 2016. Before premiering, excerpts from the opera were presented at the OPERA America New Works Forum and at National Sawdust. The entire piece was workshopped by Opera Fusion in 2013. Spears' children's opera Jason and The Argonauts also premiered this summer at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and was subsequently performed on tour this fall. His opera about space exploration, O Columbia, premiered in 2015 at Houston Grand Opera. O Columbia was described in the Wall Street Journal as having "crystalline orchestrations" and "textured, complex musical structures that sound old and new at the same time." Spears' first opera, Paul's Case, described as a "masterpiece" and a "gem" (New York Observer) with "ravishing music" (New York Times), was developed by American Opera Projects and premiered by Urban Arias in 2013. It was restaged at the Prototype Festival in New York, and presented in a new production by Pittsburgh Opera in 2014.

Spears is currently writing a double trumpet concerto commissioned by Concert Artists Guild and the BMI Foundation for trumpeter Brandon Ridenour as well as a new vocal work commissioned by New York Polyphony — made possible by a 2016 Chamber Music America Classical Commissioning Program grant. He also recently completed the soundtrack for the British feature film Macbeth (Kit Monkman, director), which is currently in post-production.

Much of his work involves period instruments. Recently, Spears was commissioned by Seraphic Fire to write a New Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei to replace Franz Süssmayr's contribution to the Mozart Requiem. The new movements were premiered in Miami by Seraphic Fire and the Firebird Chamber Orchestra and were performed with period instruments as part of Seraphic Fire's 2016 East Coast tour. His recent dramatic cantata Virginiana, commissioned by the period instrument ensemble New Vintage Baroque and the Damask vocal ensemble, was inspired by eighteenth-century music. New Amsterdam Records released his early music-inspired chamber Requiem to critical acclaim in 2011. Requiem was commissioned by Christopher Williams Dances and underwritten by the O'Donnell-Green Music and Dance Foundation. He is also writing a dance-opera, Wolf-In-Skins in collaboration with choreographer Christopher Williams. Excerpts were featured at the OPERA America New Works Forum, and Part One was produced by Philadelphia Dance Projects featuring performers from the Sebastian Chamber Players period ensemble. The Sebastian Players also gave the New York premiere of Our Lady commissioned by countertenor Ryland Angel as part of the Twelfth Night Festival at Trinity Wall Street. 

Spears won a Jerome Composers Commissioning Award to support the composition of his string quartet Buttonwood for the Jack Quartet. The piece was inspired by his experience as composer-in-residence at the Buttonwood Psychiatric Unit in the winter of 2010.  At the time Spears was teaching a course at the Princeton Writing Program called Music and Madness, which explored the connection between mental illness and creativity.  Spears has also collaborated with musicologist Simon Morrison at Princeton to realize the original score for Prokofiev's ballet Romeo and Juliet, which was premiered by the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Bard Festival in 2008. 

Other recent commissions have come from The Five Boroughs Music Festival, OPERA America, poet Tracy K. Smith, Christopher Williams Dances, the Dalton School Orchestra, Houston Grand Opera (for the Persian-themed one-act opera The Bricklayer), pianist Marika Bournaki, the Present Music Ensemble, and the Greater Princeton Youth Orchestra. In 1999 Spears was awarded a First Music Commission to write a piece for the New York Youth Symphony, which was given its premiere at Carnegie Hall.  His music has also been performed by the American Composers Orchestra, Inscape Chamber Orchestra, the NOW Ensemble (the MATA Festival), So Percussion, and Eighth Blackbird. 

He has won prizes from BMI and ASCAP as well as awards and fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Vagn Holmboe Competition. He holds degrees in composition from the Eastman School of Music (BM), Yale School of Music (MM), and Princeton University (PhD) and traveled to Denmark on a Fulbright Fellowship to study composition with Hans Abrahamsen. He has been an artist-in-residence at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony, the Aaron Copland House, the Rauschenberg Residency at Captiva Island, and was a participant in American Opera Projects' Composers and the Voice 2007/2008 season. His music is published by Schott Music and Schott PSNY.

Photograph of Greg Pierce

Greg Pierce grew up in Shelburne, Vermont. His play Slowgirl was the inaugural play of Lincoln Center's Claire Tow Theater (LCT3). It was subsequently produced by Steppenwolf Theatre and the Geffen Playhouse among others. His play Her Requiem, a Lincoln Center Theater commission, was also produced by LCT3. His play Cardinal was commissioned and produced by Second Stage Theater. The Landing, a musical written with composer John Kander, premiered at the Vineyard Theatre in NYC. His second musical with Kander, Kid Victory, was co-produced by Signature Theatre in VA and Vineyard Theatre. Fellow Travelers, an opera he wrote with composer Gregory Spears, based on the novel by Thomas Mallon, premiered at Cincinnati Opera, and will soon appear at PROTOTYPE festival in NYC, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Minnesota Opera. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, co-written with director Stephen Earnhart, based on the novel by Haruki Murakami, premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival, and went on to play the Singapore Arts Festival. The Quarry, with music by Pierce's brother Randal was commissioned and produced by Vermont Stage Company. Greg has received fellowships from the Edward F. Albee Foundation, Yaddo, The Djerassi Institute, the New York Public Library, and the Baryshnikov Arts Center.

He currently holds commissions from Manhattan Theatre Club/Sloan Foundation. His work has been developed with Naked Angels, The New Group, Atlantic Theatre Company, Asia Society, the Rattlestick Theater, and the Public Theater's Under the Radar festival. 

Pierce's stories have appeared in literary magazines such as New England Review, Avery, Berkeley Fiction Review, Confrontation, and Conjunctions. For years, he wrote and performed with a theater group called The Bad Astronauts. His verses to accompany Saint-Saëns's Carnival of the Animals (written with Brian Hargrove) were performed at the Hollywood Bowl with the L.A. Philharmonic. He has a B.A. from Oberlin College and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild and the WGA. His plays are published by the Dramatists Play Service. His work is represented by Scott Chaloff at WME. He plays backgammon. 

Photograph of Kevin Newberry

Kevin Newbury is a theater, opera, film, and event director based in New York. Kevin has directed over 70 original productions and his work has been presented by many opera companies, festivals, theaters, and orchestras, including the Park Avenue Armory, Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, BAM, Barcelona’s Gran Teatre del Liceu, San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, American Repertory Theatre, CTG/LA, Houston Grand Opera, Santa Fe Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Minnesota Opera, Montreal Opera, Opera Philadelphia, Seattle Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, the Prototype Festival, Bard Summerscape, the Virginia Arts Festival, Wexford Festival, San Francisco Symphony, and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Kevin is especially committed to developing and directing new work. He has directed over two dozen world premiere operas and plays, many of which were subsequently published or recorded. Recent world premiere highlights include Spears/Pierce's FELLOW TRAVELERS (Cincinnati Opera, Prototype Festival/NYC and Lyric Opera of Chicago, upcoming: Arizona Opera), Bates/Campbell's THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS (Santa Fe Opera, Indiana University, Seattle Opera, upcoming: San Francisco Opera, GRAMMY Winner: Best Opera Recording), Todd Almond's KANSAS CITY CHOIR BOY (starring Almond and Courtney Love, NYC, Boston, LA and Miami), Spears/Vavrek's O COLUMBIA (Houston Grand Opera), Puts/Campbell's THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE and Cuomo/Shanley's DOUBT (Minnesota Opera), Lopez/Cruz's BEL CANTO (Lyric Opera of Chicago, broadcast on PBS' Great Performances), Morrison/Cox's OSCAR (Santa Fe Opera and Opera Philadelphia), Spratlan's Pulitzer Prize-winning LIFE IS A DREAM (Santa Fe Opera) Rodewald/Di Novelli’s THE GOOD SWIMMER (BAM Next Wave Festival) and James/Douglas’ THE NINTH HOUR at Met Live Arts at the Cloisters.

Kevin’s production of FELLOW TRAVELERS was named "One of the Best Classical Music Events of 2016" by The New York Times and the New Yorker named the commercial recording "One of the Best Classical CDs of 2017." His production of VIRGINIA for the Wexford Opera Festival won the 2010 Irish Times Theatre Award for Best New Opera Production and his productions of OSCAR, BEL CANTO, and THE (R)EVOLUTION OF STEVE JOBS were all nominated for "Best World Premiere" at the International Opera Awards, three years in a row. His co-production of NORMA at Canadian Opera Company won three Dora Awards (Best Costume Design, Best Set Design, Best Female Performance). In addition to the Grammy win for Steve Jobs, Kevin’s work has also been nominated for a Grammy Award (BERNSTEIN'S MASS with Marin Alsop, also named “One of the Best Events of the Year” by The New York Times and The Washington Post for the Carnegie Hall and Kennedy Center iterations in 2008 and by The Chicago Tribune for the 2018 Ravinia Festival production), and the GLAAD Media Award (Winner: CANDY & DOROTHY, Nominated KISS AND CRY). The revival of Kevin’s production of Bernstein’s MASS was revived in 2019 and recorded for PBS’ Great Performances — his third production to be broadcast.

Kevin's first two short films, MONSURA IS WAITING and STAG, have screened at a total of forty film festivals and have each several won festival awards. MONSURA IS WAITING and STAG are both available on iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon, and his third, EPIPHANY V, a music video collaboration with Jimmy Lopez and David Johnson, is streaming for free on youtube in an effort to bring classical music to a wider audience.

As an event director, Kevin directed the Park Avenue Armory’s annual gala three years in a row (2015-2017) and returns again to direct 2019’s gala. He also directed the 2019 BAM Gala.

Kevin has collaborated with many top artists in multiple mediums including (in addition the writers listed above): Bradley Cooper, Carey Mulligan, Roland Orzabal/Tears for Fears, Courtney Love, Ricky Ian Gordon, Patti Lupone, Joyce Di Donato, Sondra Radvanovsky, John Adams, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Kimbra, Dawn Upshaw, Denyce Graves, The Young Professionals and Tracy K. Smith, just to name a few.

Upcoming projects include the world premiere of Spears/Smith’s CASTOR & PATIENCE at Cincinnati Opera, LA FAVORITE at Houston Grand Opera, Salmond/KIng’s new musical EIGHTY-SIXED and a new television project created with Jeremy J. King and James Onstad.

Kevin was raised in Maine, graduated from Bowdoin College and spent a year at Oxford University.

Photograph of Thomas Mallon

Thomas Mallon’s ten books of fiction include Henry and Clara, Fellow Travelers, Watergate (a Finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award) and the just-published Landfall.  He has also written volumes of nonfiction about plagiarism (Stolen Words), diaries (A Book of One’s Own), letters (Yours Ever) and the Kennedy assassination (Mrs. Paine’s Garage), as well as two books of essays (Rockets and Rodeos and In Fact).  His work appears in The New Yorker, The New York Times Book Review and other publications.  

Mallon received his Ph. D. in English and American Literature from Harvard University and taught for a number of years at Vassar College.  His honors include Guggenheim and Rockefeller fellowships, the National Book Critics Circle citation for reviewing, and the Vursell prize of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, for distinguished prose style.  He has been literary editor of Gentlemen’s Quarterly and deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and in 2012 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.  He is Professor Emeritus of English at The George Washington University and lives in Washington, D. C. 

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