Dr. Robert W. Butts, Of Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey Participates in Special Opera Event in Atlanta, GA
Thursday, January 31, 2013 • 3:06pm
Dr. Robert W. Butts, founder, conductor and musical director of The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, (Baroque and Beyond) was selected as one of five participants in an unusual musical event sponsored by the Atlanta (GA) Opera Company. He, along with four other contestants, was asked to compose a ten-minute original opera in 24 hours. Dr. Butts was in Atlanta for the event from Friday, January 25-Saturday, January 26.
Dr. Butts said this of the segment he composed: “My opera, written with librettist Ellen Frankel, was inspired by the Triangle Shirt Factory fire in 1911 in New York, which inspired me to start with some bluesy/jazz/ragtime-like sounds. The entire event was very exciting, particularly working with Ellen and such a talented group of musicians and support staff from the Atlanta Opera Company.”
His opera is entitled “The Triangle” and is based on the events of the Triangle Shirt Factory fire in 1911 in New York City. In that fire, hundreds of young immigrant women were killed trapped in the upper floors of a factory that had no fire code regulations.
The five composers were assigned five librettists, none of whom knew one another. Dr. Butts was paired with Ellen Frankel. The opera he composed consisted of jazz and blues-like melodies with shades reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim as well.
In addition to his conducting and artistic responsibilities, Dr. Butts has become known for his opera composing. One of his works, Mark Twain and the General, will be performed with full orchestration at the Jim Wise Theatre at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) from 2:30-4:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 6. The NJIT concert is being presented as part of that institution’s Technology and Society Forum. The opera, with libretto by New Jersey playwright Jewel Seehaus-Fisher, of Highland Park, had its premiere last August at the Orchestra’s annual Summer Music Festival. It was performed again earlier this month at the Stockton (NJ) Opera Company.
Other operas Dr. Butts has written include Gesualdo, about a ne’er do well contemporary of Monteverdi; and the Tell-Tale Heart, based on a short story by Edgar Allan Poe. He edited and orchestrated Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea 2010 and Scarlatti’s La Guiditta from a newly-discovered manuscript in Morristown in 2008
In addition to his post at The Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey, Dr. Butts is Music Director for the New Jersey Concert Opera. He also served as Music Director of Opera at Florham. In 2011, he received a special citation from The American Prize for excellence in music education, enrichment and outreach. He also received recognition from that organization for excellence in opera conducting. The Orchestra was named one of the top three U.S. community orchestras, also in 2011.
Librettist Ellen Frankel works as a freelance writer, editor, lecturer and librettist. After 18 years at the helm of the Jewish Publication Society, she now serves as its first Editor Emerita. She is the author of ten published books, including The Classic Tales, The Five Books of Miriam and The JPS Illustrated Children’s Bible.
The world premiere of Frankel’s first opera, Slaying the Dragon, with music by composer Michael Ching, was performed last June in Philadelphia. In December, 2013, The Esther Diaries for solo voice and small ensemble, commissioned by soprano Sharon Azrieli, will have its world premiere in Philadelphia. Currently, Frankel is working with several composers on four new operas and a cantata.