age comes triumph over the trials and tribulations of life — or
if not triumph, at least experience or wisdom, or wrinkles.
Dorian Gray wants none of it. He'd give his soul to stay forever
and let his portrait grow old instead.
And recently, on stage at UNT, that wish came true for Oscar Wilde's Faustian
On Feb. 6, the UNT Opera Theatre and Symphony Orchestra presented the world premiere
of Hans Schaeuble's Dorian Gray — an opera penned more than 50 years
ago by a little known Swiss composer inspired by Wilde's novella.
It was the culmination of more than three years of work that called upon almost
every discipline within the College of Music.
The first performance
experience was invaluable for UNT's students.
"It is a great coup for our students to be involved in the original creative
process for a new opera," says Stephen Dubberly, opera music director
and associate professor.
"Because there is no previous performance — no point of reference
to look to for guidance — this project forced everyone who worked on
either the transcription of the original score or the performance of the instrumental
or vocal music to not only shine as accomplished artists, but to create."
Brian Nedvin, the doctoral student who played the role of Dorian, says that
creative freedom was both a great source of excitement and frustration.
"In the beginning, it was incredibly difficult just to really grasp how
everything fit together," he says. "Even though I was singing complete
sentences, I only had one part of the conversation."
The fact that the opera employs an unusual tonal structure did little to
ease the challenge.
"I knew nothing about how Schaeuble wrote and why," Nedvin says. "It
was a struggle just to learn his musical language and find the right pitches."
The challenge was met with great success.
of how UNT came to present the world premiere of a Schaeuble opera
begins in the Swiss Alps in 2000, when Timothy Jackson, UNT
associate professor, met Chris Walton, then director of the Swiss Schaeuble
The pair agreed that UNT — with its world-class opera and symphony programs
and a newly founded Center for Schenkerian Studies, which is dedicated to reviving
and preserving lost music — perfectly complemented the foundation's
desire to present and publish Schaeuble's opera.
So, in 2001, the foundation gave UNT $64,000, two copies of the original
handwritten manuscript, and the libretto, which outlines the stage direction.
Jackson, with the help of students Jennifer Sadoff ('01 M.M.), Kevin
Salfen ('97, '99 M.M.) and Edward Munguia, began the transcription
and part extractions.
Their challenge was to perfectly blend the project's demand for scholarly
purity with the functional needs of the performers.
"Since we were doing the first transcription of this work," says
Sadoff, "we wanted to stay as true to the composer's vision as
However, that was often complicated, since the writing was in German and in
the composer's own hand. And since Schaeuble died in 1988, he could
offer no guidance about his intentions.
"But that was when we used our training and knowledge to make the best
judgments," Sadoff says.
And Dubberly says that was a primary point of the project.
"You really can't separate the academic from the performance because
our job is to prepare our students so they can go do this in their careers."
But it is also their job to present captivating productions.
And Schaeuble's Dorian Gray, which explores the moral truth that even
beauty can be evil, is absolutely captivating.
An aural experience
opera successfully combines musical sound with a dramatic
story and visual presentation. In other words, good opera
looks like theatre. That alone is hard enough. But when recording
an opera, the cast and crew must work to infuse the visual
aspects of theatre into the audio format.
The 60 members of UNT's Symphony Orchestra and the complete vocal cast
of Dorian Gray learned all the lessons necessary to accomplish such a task
when they recorded their production for Guild Music.
The recording means that, for a while at least, anyone who wants to hear Schaeuble's
Dorian Gray will listen to UNT's students.
It's a point of pride that resonates even louder than the fact that these
students — undergraduates and graduates alike — will forever be
listed as the world-premiere cast.