Composer Lewis Spratlan: Long Journey of “A Dream”


I had never studied composition during the
time that I was in high school, but my oboe teacher sensed that I had something.
And he sort of made me write a piece. It blew me away.
I just loved it. And so I got hooked with the idea even though
I’d never studied. This piece of composing that I did was just
sheer ear, nothing more than that. Anything that I write has got to arise from some fascination that I have.
I like juxtaposing things that don’t seem to go together.
And then put it in the listener’s lap to see what brings them together. In 1975, I had just been invited by the New Haven Opera Theatre to write an opera for
them. Calderon’s “La Vida es Sueno” –
“Life Is a Dream.” And I was completely absorbed by it.
I was just on the very beginning stages of composing it when I received this award.
The New Haven Opera Theatre actually ceased to exist, for a variety of reasons.
But there, suddenly, I was with a three act opera and no means to get it produced.
So I went into automatic mode, where I sent it out to innumerable opera companies.
I finally gave up on it. It sat on the shelf until about just before
the year 2000, I was urged by a composer friend of mine.
He said, This is great stuff, you really have got to bring it out there.
Now, there was no way I had the money to produce it as a staged product, but I did raise enough money to put on a concert version of one act
of it, which was done here in Amherst and also at
the Paine Hall at Harvard University, back to back.
It was one of these situations where everybody was really pulling together to make this work.
And lo and behold, it won the Pulitzer, which astonished me.
Because it was just a fragment of a piece. As a matter of fact, it’s unprecedented, that
I know of, that only one act of a three act opera would have…
It caused a lot of stir, as you can imagine. There were people saying, What is this?
But I weathered it. (Laughs) It was published by G. Shirmer.
I got a call from them saying that the Santa Fe Opera was interested in it.
It got a fabulous staging in the year 2010. So, there’s quite a trajectory that takes
off from that 1975 MCC award.