David T. Little's WHAT BELONGS TO YOU Will Premiere at Modlin Center for the Arts

Performances run September 26-28.

By: May. 30, 2024
David T. Little's WHAT BELONGS TO YOU Will Premiere at Modlin Center for the Arts
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GRAMMY® Award-nominated composer David T. Little will unveil his latest work for the stage, an opera for tenor and chamber orchestra in three parts based on Garth Greenwell’s critically acclaimed debut novel, What Belongs to You. Commissioned by Alarm Will Sound and the Modlin Center for the Arts at the University of Richmond (VA), What Belongs to You receives its world premiere at Modlin Center for the Arts on Thursday, September 26, 2024 and Saturday, September 28, 2024 at 7:30pm. GRAMMY® Award-winning tenor Karim Sulayman, for whom the role was written, is supported by Alarm Will Sound’s ensemble led by conductor Alan Pierson, with direction provided by renowned choreographer and director Mark Morris, praised as “undeviating in his devotion to music” (The New Yorker); set and costume design by Maile Okamura; and lighting design by Nicole Pearce. A commercial recording of the opera will follow.

What Belongs to You, as Greenwell describes it, “tells the story of a man caught between longing and resentment, unable to separate desire from danger, and faced with the impossibility of understanding those he most longs to know.” This manifests as an infatuation with a hustler named Mitko, with whom the unnamed narrator – here simply called “The American” – begins a long, unstable, and ultimately destructive affair. Little, who is the composer and librettist for the piece, shares: “The story is specific and personal, but the experience Greenwell describes is universal: the search for self and the desire to belong amidst loneliness and enduring heartbreak.” 

The collaborators on this project have deep and long-standing connections. Greenwell studied opera at the Eastman School of Music in the late 1990s, where he became close with Alan Pierson and Karim Sulayman, who had gone to high school together at the Northwestern University High School Music Institute. During their time in college, Pierson was Greenwell's accompanist, and Greenwell served on the board of the Eastman’s student organization, Ossia, which laid the foundation for Alarm Will Sound. Pierson served as Music Director for Little's groundbreaking early opera, Dog Days (2012), and later introduced Little to Greenwell, who has granted the composer special license and creative trust to capture the lyrical spirit of his novel and distill it to a 90-minute staged work.

Pierson says, “It's been such a thrill to bring together these artists, who connect to the deepest and most meaningful chapters of my own artistic and personal life. And I couldn't be more thrilled by the brilliant work that's emerged from this collaboration."

Little takes up Greenwell’s text as the starting point for an opera in his own inimitable style. Known for music that probes the deep corners of psychology, invoking political, historical, spiritual, and social themes as pathways to explore the human condition, Little approaches What Belongs to You as a chance to reflect an evolution in his compositional energy and a turning inward, looking back to look forward; leaning away from the rock bombast of his recent GRAMMY® Award-nominated opera Black Lodge, toward something more introspective, informed more by Monteverdi than Metallica. 

For this work, Little sourced inspiration from Britten, Dowland, Monteverdi, Valentini, Schubert, and Grisey; reflecting the seriousness of devotion found in artists like Zurbarán and the patina of fading beauty evoked by vanitas paintings. Greenwell’s novel likewise turns to language that imbues a kind of spiritual transcendence into the erotic, a quality seen in many of his own literary influences: James Baldwin, Henry James, Jean Genet, and St. Augustine, his favorite writer. Beginning with his debut, What Belongs to You, these themes continue with his 2020 novel Cleanness and his forthcoming release, due September 3, 2024, Small Rain.

As Greenwell has said about his own work and its connection to St. Augustine: “by turning inward one somehow arrives at a revelation, a truth that can be communicated to others.” Little shares, “This is the very experience that moved me so tremendously when first reading What Belongs to You. It is what drew me toit, made me cherish it and feel the sacred in it. It is what inspired me to give it a life in music and on stage. It is my hope that through this performance, the audience may also find something meaningful, and true.”


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