Phi Beta Kappa hosts famous opera scholar

On Wednesday afternoon, Newton Hall housed the highly anticipated annual Phi Beta Kappa lecture given by professor of English at Yale University and Pulitzer Prize winning poet J.D. McClatchy.

According to a statement released by Geneseo's Office of Communications and Publications, McClatchy has written six collections of poems including 2003 Pulitzer Prize nominee "Hazmat." In addition, McClatchy has composed 13 libretti for composers like William Schuman, Ned Rorem, Lorin Maazel, Lowell Liebermann, and Elliot Goldenthal.

McClatchy's presentation was entitled "Words Into Music: Adventures Into the World of Opera," and featured a discussion about the delicate art of adapting an opera's libretto, or text, to a full-fledged stage-ready performance.

Professor Tom Greenfield, president of Phi Beta Kappa, opened the honor society's 6th annual lecture, which featured, in his words, "one of the leading voices in arts and sciences." He then welcomed President Christopher Dahl, PBK member, to the podium to officially introduce McClatchy.

Dahl began his introductory speech by welcoming McClatchy. After an enumeration of McClatchy's many professional accomplishments, which included his "recently being elected president to the Academy of American Arts and Letters," Dahl stepped aside and the main speaker finally took center stage.

McClatchy broke the ice with an anecdote about "La Sonnambula," a show for which he recently provided the supertitles that opened Monday at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. He discussed the issues with the premiere of the show, which illustrated the fact that, "Opera is the art with the most moving parts so something is bound to go wrong."

McClatchy continued his discussion in this vein, dissecting the difficulties of putting together a production as large and expensive as an opera. As he observed, librettists like himself and those they work with are, "Thrust into a world with endless collaborators who are eager to tell you what you've done wrong."

To better demonstrate the impact that staging can have on a libretto, McClatchy referenced the English language opera, "Emmeline."

He played an aria called "Dearest Mother and Father" sung by soprano Patricia Racette. He then projected a filmed version of the scene for the audience to observe. McClatchy commented on the difficulty of having singers capture the true emotion of the scene, asking of viewers, "How do you portray the most private intimate feelings of a young girl?"

McClatchy followed this interactive portion with a few amusing anecdotes and comments about the trials and tribulations of working with temperamental directors, singers and composers, and an acknowledgement that despite the struggles and "years and years of work by hundreds and hundreds of people," the final culmination of a complete opera is a rewarding experience. He concluded with a brief question and answer session about his lecture.

Following the lecture and a book signing of his latest release, "Mercury Dressing," viewers were invited to enjoy a poetry reading of McClatchy's work at the Lockhart Gallery on Main Street.