BWW Interview: Patrice P. Eaton of WE'VE GOT OUR EYE ON YOU at SUNY New Paltz
Three sisters. A hunky Greek demigod. And a mantrap. Throw in a diva-the Oracle at Delphi-and you have We've Got Our Eye on You. In celebration of Women's History Month, Professor Daniel Kempton (Chair, Dept of Music) is pleased to announce world premiere workshop performances of the new comic opera with by composer Nkeiru Okoye (Harriet Tubman: When I Crossed That Line to Freedom) and librettist by David Cote (The Scarlet Ibis), directed by Susan Einhorn (Uncle Jed's Barbershop).
Performances will take place March 1 and 5 at 8pm at the Julien J. Studley Theatre (1 Hawk Drive, New Paltz,NY), featuring a student cast, an orchestra of students and faculty, and the New Paltz Chamber Singers under the baton of Edward J. Lundergan (Dept of Music and Director of Choral Activities).
We've Got Our Eye On You is a 70-minute opera that is very loosely based on Ancient Greek myth, made infamous in the "Stygian Witches" episode from 1980 camp classic Clash of the Titans. Taking inspiration from Gilbert & Sullivan, Monty Python,Stephen Sondheim and Aretha Franklin, the opera is both hilarious and touching, exploring the unchained desires of three highly unusual sisters torn between dignity and desire. "We've Got Our Eye on You" takes place in and around a cave inhabited by the Graeae, or Gray Sisters-Enyo,
Pemphredo and Deino-siblings who share an external eyeball. A Chorus of Greeks introduces the sisters, who are cooking a man in their cauldron as they prepare for a visit from Pythia, the Oracle at Delphi. Pythia arrives and soon has a vision that the gals will be "known" by the hero Perseus, who is searching for Medusa. Inflamed by the idea of a strange man, the sisters vow not to tell. But will romantic impetuosity ruin all? Is Perseus hunter or prey? Mixing slapstick comedy with elegant, witty songwriting, composer Nkeiru Okoye and librettist David Cote explore notions of heroism, chastity and the modern teen phenomenon of "hooking up."
This production is noteworthy for several reasons: It's a rare instance of new opera created and premiered in theLower Hudson Valley; for students and faculty at SUNY New Paltz, it will be a chance to work with professional artists; and the work is composed by and features African-American female artists, underrepresented voices in the new-opera field.
The cast includes Krista Miller (Enyo), Jillian Gawricki (Pemphredo), Amber Neilson (Deino), Daniel Chiu and Joshua Tobias (alternating as Perseus) and Guest Artist Patrice P. Eaton (www.patricepeaton.com/) as Pythia.
The creative team includes Nkeiru Okoye (composer), David Cote (librettist), Susan Einhorn (director), Edward J. Lundergan (choir director/conductor), Kent Smith(vocal director/coach) and Angela Perez (stage manager).
I had the pleasure of chatting with Patrice P. Eaton, who plays the role of Pythia, in this exciting new opera!
What is your musical background? Where did you go to school? Did you always train to be an opera singer?
Well, I was born in a musical family. Almost everyone in my family has been trained in music in some way and most are very active in the arts now. My mom is a professional musician, but when I turned 13, she returned to the classroom and taught music until her retirement almost 7 years ago.
I started my music training as a violinist at the age of 3 at the Harlem School of the Arts. I also played the piano while there, but my mom and the late mezzo Betty Allen thought I should be singing, so I moved over into the voice department. While there I studied with Yvonne Hatchett and coached with Ms. Allen.
My undergraduate degree is in vocal performance from the University of Kentucky. I actually started out as a marketing major at Clark Atlanta University, but I was not a fan of Econ 101. When I called my mom to say I was changing my major to music, she found Alteouise DeVaughn and I studied with her until I transferred. Many ask how did this New Yorker end up in Kentucky. My mother's dearest friend, Cliff Jackson was the vocal coach and he suggested I come there after my freshman year in Atlanta. Kentucky's Music Program is really a conservatory in the midst of a state school. I will honestly say that I was well prepared as anyone coming out of the major conservatories.
Yes, I've always sung classical music. My first gig was in the children's choruses of the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera. I love singing jazz and musical theater, but my passion is really with opera.
How did you get involved with this project?
I got involved with this project because of the composer Dr. Nkeiru Okoye. We met about 5 or 6 years ago when she was trying to promote her first opera Harriet Tubman. She called me about doing a workshop version of the first act at St. Marks on the Bowery. I sang for her and we've been working together since. I was also
honored to be in the World Premiere of Harriet Tubman: When I've Crossed that line to Freedom as Caroline.
Around this time last year, Nkeiru called to say she had a new opera based on Greek mythology and that she had written the role of Pythia for me. I came up to New Paltz with several other opera and Broadway singers and we recorded and videotaped the first scene in May. In October she called again to say the Opera was complete, told me the dates and sent the music in the mail. LOL So here I am with these talented students and professional musicians putting it all together..
What has it been like to play this role? Are you comic or dramatic?
My character Pythia is really like an over the top overly dramatic aunt. My aunts were/are pretty reserved, but there were one or two ladies in my church family who were over the top. I'm really pulling on them and their antics to get this character across.
Do you get to release your inner "Aretha Franklin?"
No Aretha from me. LOL That's not my forte. My Aretha impressions are for my car or at home.
How would you describe the music?
It's tonal contemporary music. It's easy to sing and pretty.
Does the opera have a lot of arias or more ensembles?
Nkeiru writes in a way that everyone has a way of standing out. There are arias and ensembles for everyone. I think my favorites are the ensembles for the sisters. People will have to come and see it to hear them.
Is it fully written or were there revisions through the rehearsal process?
Well, that's the perk with working with a living composer who is writing for you. We can make things comfortable. There were a couple of times that I sang through things, then I would get home from rehearsal and drop Nkeiru an email and say what worked and what didn't. We haven't made many changes, but enough so I feel great about things.
How has it been working with Suny-New Paltz and the music department?
The staff and students have been wonderful. They should really be proud of the work that they've done.
I thank Patrice for taking time for this interview and wish her a successful run!
For details on We've Got Our Eye on You and other SUNY New Paltz events, visit www.newpaltz.edu/music/concertseries.html.
The opera will be performed March 1 and 5 at 8pm and is open to the public. We've Got Our Eye on You is a work-inprogress and not open for review, but the creative team welcomes feedback. The opera website is http://www.nkeiruokoye.com/#!weve-got-our-eye-on-you/c1rxf
Tickets are available in person at the Julien J. Studley Theatre. General Admission is
$10; Seniors $6; Faculty/Staff/ Student $3.