ELMER GANTRY, Which Had Its World Premiere at Nashville Opera, Wins 2 Grammy Awards


What began as a commissioned opera in Boston, and which was shelved during a management shake-up, and what eventually turned into a 17-year odyssey for composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein, came full-circle Sunday, February 12, when their original work, Elmer Gantry, won two Grammy Awards.

The creative duo spent years traveling across the U.S. looking for an opera company willing to produce its world premiere before a chance meeting in St. Louis with John Hoomes, artistic director of Nashville Opera, at the Opera AMERICA New Works Showcase.

Hoomes was in the audience during the organization’s annual conference and heard a musical excerpt of Elmer Gantry which was featured along with several other new operas. Intrigued by the music and subject matter, Hoomes sought a meeting with Aldridge and Garfein to talk about their score and to discuss the possibility of staging the world premiere in Nashville.

After more than three years of close collaboration with Aldridge and Garfein, Hoomes was convinced that Elmer Gantry was ready for an audience. The three men cast the singers, hired a conductor, and invited artistic directors from opera companies throughout the United States to attend the first performances in November, 2007.


Florentine Opera ‘s William Florescu was one of those at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center’s Polk Theatre for the world premiere, and he was so impressed that he invited Hoomes to direct a production of the opera in Milwaukee. Those performances at Florentine Opera were recorded by NAXOS and won Grammy Awards in two different categories: Best Contemporary Classical Composition and Best Engineered Album, Classical.

In their acceptance speeches during Sunday’s Grammy Award broadcast, Aldridge and Garfein thanked Hoomes, Carol Penterman, Nashville Opera’s president and CEO, and the company itself for being the first opera company willing to stage the work, and for believing in the opera from the beginning when others did not.

“I think it’s wonderful news that the brilliant new opera Elmer Gantry won the Grammy for Best Contemporary Classical Composition, because that clearly speaks for the merit and value of the opera itself,” says Hoomes. “Nashville Opera  is very fortunate to have recognized the value of the work early on, and fought tirelessly to develop the opera and give it life. We are extremely proud of composer Robert Aldridge and librettist Herschel Garfein, and of the masterpiece that they have created.”

Nashville Opera, Tennessee’s largest professional opera company, is among the most successful regional companies in the United States of America, and has presented three different world premiere operas since its inception in 1981. Mainstage performances are presented at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center and play to over 17,000 people annually.

Nashville Opera’s extensive education and outreach touring program reaches over 30,000 students throughout Middle Tennessee.  For details, go to www.nashvilleopera.org.

Pictured, at top, John Hoomes

Nashville THEATER

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor outstanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror. In 2015, he directed William Inge's Picnic for Circle Players and The Last Five Years for VWA Theatricals, with The Larry Keeton Theatre's production of The Miss Firecracker Contest set for spring 2016.


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