Dana Gioia studied music for many years and originally hoped to be a composer. As a poet, he has collaborated with many composers and musicians—mostly from the classical tradition but also in jazz and rock. Gioia has also frequently written on music. For seven years he was the classical music critic for San Francisco magazine.
As Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dana Gioia created and supported many major musical programs including NEA Jazz Masters, Great American Voices, and the American Masterpieces tours in musical theater, chamber music, and choral music.
Gioia has written three opera libretti—Nosferatu (2004) with composer Alva Henderson, Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast (2008) with Paul Salerni, and The Three Feathers (2014) with Lori Laitman. His poems have been set to music many composers, including Dave Brubeck, Ned Rorem, David Conte, Lori Laitman, Stefania de Kenessey, Paquito D’Rivera, Helen Sung, Jack Hues, Beth Anderson, Alva Henderson, Paul Salerni, Stephen Flaherty, and others. Laitman, Salerni, Helen Sung, and de Kenessey have each done song cycles based on Gioia’s work. Henderson has also composed a symphonic choral work, “Winter Requiem” (2003) based on Gioia’s poems.
Gioia’s first libretto, Nosferatu, was written for Alva Henderson. The opera was developed slowly with each major scene being premiered in vocal concerts and then three major concert showcases of the work in Colorado, California, and Tennesee before the joint world premiere at Rimrock Opera and Opera Idaho in 2004. The work has been recorded with the premiere cast on Albany Records.
Gioia’s second opera project was Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast, an experimental one-act opera in ten short scenes composed by Paul Salerni. Drawing from different musical traditions and mixing realism with vision and fantasy, this work was also developed through several concert performances and showcases. In 2007 it was chosen from among 70 other works by the National Opera Association as the best new American chamber opera. Officially premiered in Los Angeles in January, 2008, Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast has already been produced in several cities.
Based on F. W. Murnau’s 1922 classic of the silent screen, the opera mixes supernatural horror with psychological realism to create a powerfully lyric work. Click here for a synopsis of the opera.
Read Dana Gioia’s interview with Lequita Vance-Watkins about the writing of Nosferatu and the role of the poet as librettist. The Rimrock Opera Company has created a Web page with pictures from their production of Nosferatu.
Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast
Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast is a one-act opera in ten short scenes. It takes place in the studio of a bankrupt classical music station on its last night of broadcasting. (At midnight the new owners will convert the frequency to easy listening.) The work presents the final show of the station’s last night, an opera program hosted by a failed tenor, Antonio Caruso. Moving from realism to satire to visionary lyricism, Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast is an experimental work that innovatively delivers the theatrical magic of traditional opera.
The libretto for Tony Caruso’s Final Broadcast was published in Italian Americana (Winter 2005) accompanied by a long inteview with composer Paul Salerni. A recording of the opera appeared in 2010 on a Naxos CD.
The Three Feathers
Libretto by Dana Gioia. Music by Lori Laitman.
Gioia’s third opera libretto was The Three Feathers, written for composer Lori Laitman. Based on a tale by the Brothers Grimm, Gioia and Laitman conceived the opera as a sort of contemporary Magic Flute with a story that alternates between a royal court and an underworld ruled by the Frog King. In addition to a cast of singers, the work features dancers and a children’s chorus of subterranean creatures. The Three Feathers was premiered in 2014 at Virginia Technical University in a joint production with Opera Roanoke. Read an interview with Dana Gioia and composer Lori Laitman by Susan Dormady Eisenberg here.
Sung with Words is a jazz song cycle by Helen Sung to the poems of Dana Gioia.