The dead are only as brilliant as their mediums, and in the creators and cast of “Nearby Faraway,” the spirits of Georgia O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz have found theirs.
The musical – or, more precisely – the contemporary opera – based on the lives of the famous painter and her husband, the equally famous photographer/ arts impresario, premiered July 22 at the Carriage House Theater at Fort William Henry. It was a transformative experience.
Thirty-two years in the making, “Nearby Faraway” collapses the decades that Stieglitz and O’Keeffe spent on Lake George into one night of theater. Although O’Keefe spent a summer on Lake George in 1908 at an artists’ colony founded by Yaddo benefactors Spencer and Katrina Trask, it was not until 1918 that she became an annual summer resident.
A few years earlier, she had fallen in love with Stieglitz, whose family started coming to Lake George in the 1870s. The family compound would become the couple’s sole, permanent home until Stieglitz’s death in 1946. Here, O’Keeffe discovered herself as an artist. And the world discovered her.
Neal Herr, who wrote the show’s book and lyrics, describes “Nearby Faraway” as a love story. That it is, no doubt, but it is the love story of two artists, for whom art, or the need to make art, takes precedence over all else – spouses, lovers, children (even hypothetical children) included.
Stieglitz famously called O’Keeffe “My Faraway One” and the title “Nearby Faraway” accurately reflects the dynamic of their relationship, one that pulls them together while, at the same time, pushing them apart.
That is the drama that dances across the stage.
The title “Nearby Faraway” also captures the drama of modern art – the “push and pull” that activated O’Keeffe’s landscapes and still lifes and Stieglitz’s clouds.
Composer Catherine Reid brilliantly captures the essence of modern art and its embrace of modernity in her score.
In one section, for instance, you will hear overtones of Erik Satie’s “Parade,” the first opera to incorporate the sounds of urban cacophony, materialism and energy into an operatic score.
In other places, you may hear echoes of the American contemporaries of Stieglitz and O’Keeffe – Marc Blitzstein and Elliot Carter, for instance.
Elsewhere, Reid deploys contemporary minimalism to create an unobtrusive setting for Herr’s literate and witty lyrics.
However much “Nearby Faraway” owes to the longtime collaboration of Reid and Herr, it is truly an ensemble production, and everyone, from actor-singers Hillary Parker, Anthime Miller, Emma Otto, Laura Roth and Gisella Montez-Case to director Vincent de Tourdonnet and the choreographer, set designer, chamber orchestra and costume designer deserves praise, gratitude and credit for bringing this long-gestating vision to life.
“Nearby Faraway” will be presented at the Carriage House Theater for one more weekend, July 29-July 31. For tickets and information, visit nearbyfaraway.org.