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Hopper Paintings Inspire New Opera

One day last year, University of Maryland opera professor Leon Major paid a visit to Stephen Ackert, head of the National Gallery of Art’s music department.

His mission was simple: to get more of his music students “singing in the gallery.”

“We got to talking about future exhibits,” one of which was the upcoming retrospective on Edward Hopper, Major recalled. “Out of the conversation came the idea of commissioning [an] opera based on five of the paintings.”

Fast forward several months and you have composer John Musto and librettist Mark Campbell’s “Later the Same Evening: an opera inspired by five paintings of Edward Hopper,” which will be previewed at the gallery today.

A joint project of the National Gallery, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center and the University of Maryland School of Music, the opera expands on the often solitary dramas captured in the Hopper paintings “Room in New York,” “Hotel Window,” “Hotel Room,” Two on the Aisle” and “Automat.” Set in a single evening in 1930s New York, the opera weaves together a distinctly urban tale of love coming together and apart, of strangers who become friends, and of city life’s alternate excitement and alienation.

As the one-act 90-minute opera unfolds, we see the disengaged couple of a “Room in New York,” the well-dressed matron staring out a “Hotel Window,” the girl on a bed with a letter, her packed bags standing nearby in “Hotel Room,” the theatergoers of “Two on the Aisle,” and finally the solitary young woman in the “Automat.”

“Each of these paintings had some intriguing story,” said Major, who directs the opera.

All of the Hopper paintings with the exception of “Hotel Window” will be on view as part of the National Gallery’s Hopper exhibit, which opens Sept. 16. Meanwhile, the opera, featuring University of Maryland music students, will be performed at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center from Nov. 15-18 and at the National Gallery on Dec. 2. The National Gallery performance is free, but reservations are required and can be made by calling 202-842-6941.

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