The 86-year-old composer hopes his Buñuel-themed musical will open around the same time as Thomas Adès’s opera.
In news that will be manna from heaven for Stephen Sondheim fans, the revered 86-year-old musical theatre composer/lyricist has let slip that he hopes his latest musical will open off-Broadway at New York’s Public Theater next year.
Sondheim made the comment on Saturday during a public discussion with Jamie Bernstein (Leonard Bernstein’s daughter) about the difference between opera and musicals. The talk took place between performances of his musical Sweeney Todd at the Glimmerglass Festival in Cooperstown, New York. A spokesperson for the Public Theatre has confirmed that they are developing the project with Sondheim but said that no date has yet been set.
The musical, which Sondheim has been working on for several years with American playwright David Ives (Venus in Fur), is based on two surrealist films by Spanish filmmaker Luis Buñuel: The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972) and The Exterminating Angel (1962). Sondheim said that the musical is about “trying to find a place to have dinner”. In The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie a group of middle-class people attempt to dine together despite constant interruptions. In the macabre comedy The Exterminating Angel, a wealthy couple invite guests to a dinner party after seeing an opera and find themselves inexplicably trapped.
By coincidence, British composer Thomas Adès has also recently looked to Buñuel for inspiration, adapting The Exterminating Angel for his new opera, which premiered last week at the Salzburg Festival in Austria in a co-production between the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, the Metropolitan Opera and the Dutch National Opera. Entitled The Exterminating Angel, the opera received mostly extremely positive reviews. The New York Times praised its “exceptionally inventive and audacious score” while Fiona Maddocks in a five-star review in The Guardian described the premiere as “a momentous evening: a turning point for Adès and, it felt, for opera itself.” If Sondheim’s hopes for a 2017 Off-Broadway season come to pass, the two works might both play in New York around the same time. Adès’s opera will open at the Royal Opera House in London on April 24, 2017 and is also slated for a season at the Met later in the year.
Referencing a transcript provided by Glimmerglass, the New York Times quoted Sondheim as saying: “I called Adès and we talked about it, and I said, ‘You know, for the five people in the world who really care about this sort of thing, it’ll be really interesting if the musical and the opera are done in the same year,’ which they are going to be. Tom’s piece will be done at the Met next year and, if I can finish the score in time, our show will be done simultaneously at the Public Theater.’” He added: “It should be interesting to see two entirely different ways to treat a story, geared for two entirely different kinds of audience.”
Sondheim’s last major musical Road Show was premiered in London and staged by the Public Theater in 2008 following earlier incarnations which played at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1999 under the title Wise Guys and then at the Kennedy Center in 2003 when it was called Bounce.