Clint’s 4th opera, When Adonis Calls, was his first collaboration with director and librettist John De Los Santos, and is based on the poetry of Gavin Dillard. The opera was selected for presentation in Fort Worth Opera Frontiers Showcase (2015), and Opera America’s 2017 New Works Forum. The “glorious” work was premiered at Asheville Lyric Opera, and received a new production by Thompson Street Opera.
When Adonis Calls is the story of an accomplished author struggling with writer’s block who is contacted by an eager young fan interested in both an artistic and personal correspondence. What follows is a sensual game of literary discovery that leads the two into realms of unbridled eroticism, demons, and secret longings. Their writings culminate in a meeting in the flesh that transcends beyond what either of them imagined when they first put pen to paper.
When Adonis Calls blends a ninety minute score of romantic lyricism with dance and a fresh perspective of operatic storytelling. The piece utilizes an ensemble of two baritones, string quartet, percussionist, and two dancers.
“I think I heard Adonis Call/ his voice was thin and sullen…” Love does not always call to us with a herald’s trumpet or a fanfare. Sometimes the voice of love is a quiet whisper on the horizon, and that whisper becomes “a blaze, a fire that rages and cannot be contained until all becomes silence beneath its ashy snow.” The journey of love is a beautiful mess and one that When Adonis Calls embraces in its totality. This piece truly has it all; from the mundane, to the edge of vulnerability. From the semi profane and offensive, to moments that I struggle to even find words to describe.
The music is also full of opposites, from a wry humor with a coy sex joke, a tempo of 69, and an opening motif of inversions on F-A-G to arching melodies that ache with the seriousness of love and death. The music also helps us see the journey of the Poet and the Muse as they come together. The Muse starts with an almost Cuban dance beat, pulsing underneath many of his poems; meanwhile, the Poet has sensuality more akin to American jazz. Throughout the piece we slowly hear these rhythms and extended harmonies developing between the two as the Poet adopts ideas from the Muse and vice versa. The ensemble itself is contradictory in ways as well; a delicate string quartet is contrasted with unabashed bongos and sogo drum. Borzoni forms a uniquely beautiful soundscape as he melds these contrasting ideas into a tight-knit unity, forming a cohesive whole.
The thematic tonality doesn’t stop there, as the show embraces several different forms of art. Poetry, dance, drama, and music come together for an experience that is quite rare. When Adonis Calls will not tell you what to think; it will not tell you what to experience. It will wash over you so that everyone is stirred and moved in a unique way. This is one of the great joys of art and one that is maximized here. I encourage you not to analyze this piece as it occurs, but to let each feeling in, as it knocks in the door, and out when another comes to replace it.
~ Alexandra Enyart
“… When Adonis Calls. A tight, yet leisurely, ninety minutes of opera that leaps from the score of composer Clint Borzoni set to the sexy, philosophical meanderings of “The Naked Poet,” Gavin Geoffrey Dillard, as curated and shaped by director/choreographer/librettist wunderkind John De Los Santos. The piece is scored for two baritones, two male dancers, a string quartet and percussion, a heady and distinctive bouquet that the creators use to full benefit … glorious!”
“Borzoni mirrors, then elucidates Dillard’s jagged-then-lush free verse, wondrously specific to near didacticism then suddenly heightened, with a contemporary score that, upon musicological examination, answers all the requirements for today’s opera music, its forms and compositional-themeology sharp, nearly terse at times, then profiting hugely by a sweeping lyricism that must be making Richard Strauss misty in his grave.”
The Poet is struggling with loneliness and writer’s block. He is contacted by the much younger Muse, who admires the Poet’s past work, and insists on contacting him using his own poems. At first resistant to the Muse’s vigorous advances, the Poet eventually relents to see where this unexpected relationship will lead him and his writing.
Confident in his wit and physical wiles, the Muse pours all his energy into his poems and rejects any advances from others around him. The Poet is amused and invigorated, but cautious. The two continue to learn more about the other and flirt, but the Poet maintains a safe distance. The Muse is determined to conquer his mentor’s resolve.
The Poet has regained much of his youthful exuberance and energy thanks to the Muse’s writings. He feels more alive and creative than he has in years. The Muse is equally excited and the two of them express their anticipation of finally meeting. Their poems eventually become more and more erotic, until the two of them share an intensely sexual experience unlike any either of them have had in their adventurous pasts (their lust is portrayed in a pas de deux by the two dancers).
The two men share embarrassing anecdotes about their youth. The Muse bemoans the distance between them as well as the Poet’s lack of amorous reciprocation. The Poet, having regained much physical strength, chastises the Muse for his immature expectations. Through violent imagery, the Poet reveals more of his nature (much of it unpleasant) and declares that he is who he is. As the Muse crumbles in disbelief, the Poet abruptly declares his love.
Music begins at 1:20
WHEN ADONIS CALLS
Music by Clint Borzoni
Libretto by John de los Santos
poems by Gavin Geoffrey Dillard
The Poet – Grant Youngblood, baritone
The Muse – Michael Weyandt, baritone
dancers – Asher Gelman and Matthew Hardy
with string quartet and percussion, conducted by Jennifer Peterson
operamission, presented at OPERA America’s New Works Forum, January 12, 2017, Marc A. Scorca Hall, directed and choreographed by John de los Santos