by Jake Heggie
Libretto by Gene Scheer
At the Patrick Henry PHAME! Theatre 6702 Wandermere Drive, San Diego 92120. On the campus of Patrick Henry High School
It’s December and beloved stage actress and singer Madeline Mitchell is writing her annual Christmas letter. But no letter is enough to make up for the years of lost time and resentments of her now-adult children, Beatrice and Charlie. Charlie blames his mother’s distance on the fact he is gay and his sister ‘Bea’ is masking the pain of a bad marriage with alcohol… and neither can forgive their mother for their circumstances. When the truth of their father’s tragic death comes out, can true healing and forgiveness follow or will it be too late for this family? Three Decembers is a modern masterpiece that explores the truth, lies, resentments, and ultimately the hopes of a family over the decades. With simple, yet profound, music that bares the souls of each character, this chamber opera is an intimate meditation on the family we wish for and the family we end up with. These performances featuring the return of mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade who reprises the role of Madeline that she created for the opera’s world premiere.
One hour before each performance, join us for a pre-opera lecture by Dr. Nicolas Reveles. Stay after for a moderated Talk-Back with cast and creative team.
Sung in English with projected English text.
The approximate run time is ninety minutes with no intermission.
Part One: 1986
Scene 1: A Letter and a Phone Call
Siblings Charlie and Bea are on the phone to share their famous mother’s annual Christmas letter. They laugh about her theatrical writing style and muse on their strained relationship with her. Charlie is in San Francisco and Bea is in Hartford while Madeline (Maddy) is spending Christmas in the Caribbean. She describes a long-ago Christmas in San Francisco with their late father, before they were born. They hardly remember their dad as they were terribly young when he died.
Maddy gleefully announces that she will soon star in her first Broadway musical and concludes her letter by sending love to Bea’s family and to Charlie’s partner, Curt. However, his name is actually Burt, and he is very sick with AIDS. After five years with Burt, Charlie is deeply hurt that his mother still doesn’t know his name. This has been a constant battle for Charlie and his mother. Bea tells Charlie how she envies the love he and Burt share. Charlie convinces her to come to San Francisco to visit.
Scene 2: A Broadway Stage
Maddy sings Daybreak, the final number from her Broadway show.
Scene 3: Backstage
Beatrice joins Maddy in her dressing room after a hugely successful opening night performance. She expresses her concern for Charlie and Burt and accuses Maddy of continuing to be an absent, unsupportive parent. Maddy proclaims her deep love for them and explains that as a single mother, she had to work and miss much of their childhood. She describes the terrible, sudden car accident that caused their father’s death, but Bea notices that a detail of the story is a little different this time. When she asks Maddy about it, Maddy leaves the room.
Scene 4: The Golden Gate Bridge
Bea and Charlie are walking on the Golden Gate Bridge. They imagine their parents as young actors with their lives, dreams and careers ahead of them. Charlie tells Bea that Burt is not doing well and may be dying. Together, they think back on their childhood, what they actually remember about the father they never really knew, and what they’ve invented over the years.
Part Two: 1996
Scene 1: Charlie’s Apartment
Charlie sits alone in his apartment, surrounded by numerous shipping boxes, all packed and sealed. He reads through his journal and talks to Burt, who died seven weeks ago at Christmas time. He remembers how his mother finally came to visit right before Burt’s death. She touched his hand and sang the lullaby that Charlie’s father used to sing to him. As Charlie remembers, Maddy sings the lullaby.
During the song, Bea and Maddy have a quick phone call in which Maddy tells her she’s been nominated for a Tony Award. The plan is for all three of them to be together again for the big night. They finish the lullaby as a trio.
Scene 2: Maddy’s Apartment
Bea is alone in her mother’s apartment. Maddy had promised to be there to help her pick out something special to wear to the Tonys, but she never showed up. Bea stands in front of a mirror, drinks wine, and tries on her mother’s clothes as she sings of how deeply she misses her father. Her deep sense of worthlessness isn’t helped by her mother’s absence or her husband Syd’s infidelities. Charlie rushes in and notices how upset she is. He cheers her up with a story about their mother and a rousing number inspired by her passion for shoes.
Madeline enters and tells Charlie that if she wins the Tony, she will speak of how moved and inspired she was by Burt’s struggle, and that by working together, we will defeat AIDS. Bea and Charlie are mortified that their mother now wishes to capitalize on Charlie’s relationship with Burt: a relationship she had disdained and discarded for so many years.
With emotions and tension running high, Maddy accuses Bea of being a “sad, sorry, drunken mess” just like her father. Unable to mislead her children any more, Maddy reveals the grim truth about their father and the dark secret she’d been keeping: he suffered from depression, drank heavily, couldn’t get work and wasn’t able to help support or raise his young family. One night, without warning, he got up, walked to a subway station and stepped in front of a train. Maddy made up a story about a car accident to protect her small children from the truth: their father had committed suicide.
Bea and Charlie are devastated by the sudden knowledge that they have built their identities and lives on a lie. Is this something one can forgive? They leave their mother alone in her apartment. Maddy slowly pulls herself together and goes to the Tonys.
Part Three: 2006
On an empty Broadway stage, Charlie and Bea speak at a memorial service for their mother. Maddy died suddenly and quietly in her sleep after writing her annual Christmas letter. Bea and Charlie acknowledge that they still struggle to understand their mother and reconcile the lie she told about their father. But Bea says, thanks to her own children, she now understands what the theater meant to Maddy: it was her religion, it was her way of forgetting and of feeling deeply. Maddy’s ghost joins in, asking their forgiveness and explaining that she found on the stage what every person desires: not escape, but connection. Bea and Charlie offer a loving tribute to their parents’ souls. Maddy gratefully accepts. The service concludes with the final line from Maddy’s Christmas letter: “All in all isn’t life simply grand? I’m so awfully glad I showed up for it.”
Frederica von Stade — Madeline MitchellAmerican mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade made her Company debut in 2016 as Mrs. Winnie Flato in Jake Heggie’s Great Scott. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1970 and she has sung nearly all of her great roles with that company. In January 2000, the company celebrated the 30th anniversary of her debut with a new production of The Merry Widow specifically for her, and in 1995, as a celebration of her 25th anniversary, the Metropolitan Opera created a new production of Pelléas et Mélisande for her. In addition, she has appeared with every leading American opera company, including San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, and Los Angeles Opera. Her career in Europe has been no less spectacular, with new productions mounted for her at Teatro alla Scala, Royal Opera, Covent Garden, the Vienna Staatsoper, and the Paris Opera. She is invited regularly by the finest conductors, among them Claudio Abbado, Charles Dutoit, James Levine, Kurt Masur, Riccardo Muti, Seiji Ozawa, André Previn, Leonard Slatkin, and Michael Tilson Thomas, to appear in concert with the world’s leading orchestras, including the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony, Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra, San Francisco Symphony, London Symphony Orchestra, Washington’s National Symphony, and the Orchestra of La Scala. A noted bel canto specialist, she excelled as the heroines of Rossini’s La Cenerentola and The Barber of Seville and Bellini’s La sonnambula and is noted for her Marguerite in Berlioz’ La damnation de Faust. Other notable roles in her repertory include title role in The Merry Widow and Desirée Armfeldt in A Little Night Music. Her repertoire is continually expanding with the works of contemporary composers. She created the role of Tina in The Dallas Opera’s world premiere production of The Aspern Papers, and Madame de Merteuil in Dangerous Liaisons and Mrs. Patrick De Rocher in Dead Man Walking, both for San Francisco Opera.
Kristin Clayton — Beatrice MitchellSan Diego Opera debut. Notable appearances for American lyric soprano Kristin Clayton include the world premiere of Jake Heggie and Terrence McNally’s At the Statue of Venus for the grand opening of Denver’s new Caulkins Opera House, Beatrice Mitchell with Houston Grand Opera and the San Francisco Opera, Donna Anna in Don Giovanni for Walnut Creek Opera, Nedda in Pagliacci, Fiordilgi in Così fan tutte, Madame de Tourvel in The Dangerous Liaisons, Wellgunde in Das Rheingold for San Francisco Opera, Echo in Ariadne auf Naxos, Mimi in La bohème, Violetta in La traviata and Magda in La rondine for Chautauqua Opera, Mendelssohn's Lobgesang with the Kalamazoo Symphony, Norina in Don Pasquale and Micaela in The Tragedy of Carmen with Festival Opera in Walnut Creek. While a member of the San Francisco Opera Center and an Adler Fellow, she performed in Showcase productions of King Priam as Andromache and Ezio as Onoria. At Wolftrap Opera, she sang Donna Anna and the First Lady in The Magic Flute and as a member of San Francisco Opera's Merola Program, she sang Rosalinde and Adele in Die Fledermaus with Western Opera Theatre. Additional opera credits include the Countess in The Marriage of Figaro, Micaela in Carmen, Virtue in L'Incoronazione di Poppea, the title roles in Zaïde and Suor Angelica and a Wood Nymph in Rusalka for the San Francisco Opera.Her orchestral engagements with the San Francisco Symphony have included a tribute to Leonard Bernstein and a semi-staged revival of On the Town. She recently performed the Verdi Requiem with Modesto Symphony and Poulenc`s Gloria and Orff`s Carmina Burana with the San Mateo Masterworks Chorale.
Steven Labrie — Charlie MitchellSan Diego Opera debut. American baritone Steven LaBrie’s notable appearances include Escamillo in Carmen with Sarasota Opera, Riolobo in Florencia en el Amazonas with Florida Grand Opera, Figaro in The Barber of Seville with Opera Hong Kong and Lyric Opera Baltimore, Marcello in La bohème with Opera Omaha, and the Count in The Marriage of Figaro with North Carolina Opera. In concert, he has been heard in Carmina Burana with the San Antonio Symphony and Brahms’s Requiem with the Tulsa Symphony. He has also appeared with the New York City Ballet singing the baritone solos of Estancia both in New York City and on tour in Paris, and made his Carnegie Hall debut as the soloist in Matthias Pintscher’s Songs from Solomon’s Garden with the American Composers Orchestra. He has received numerous awards and honors including a 2016 Top Prize Award and a 2013 Encouragement Grant from the George London Music Foundation, Second Place from the Gerda Lissner International Vocal Competition as well as the Judges Award with the Opera Index Competition. In 2010, he was an encouragement award winner in Washington, DC for the Metropolitan Opera National Council. He was also awarded First Place in the Dallas Opera Guild Vocal Competition and Second Place in the Palm Beach Opera Competition in 2008, where he performed in the grand winner's concert accompanied by the Palm Beach Opera Orchestra. That same year, he was awarded Second Place at the Parkinson Competition and was a recipient of the Sergio Franchi Scholarship. In 2006, Mr. LaBrie was a Third Place winner of the Dallas Opera Vocal Competition, where he was also awarded The Mozart Award for best aria interpretation. Additionally, he has been awarded the Grand Prize at the Florida Grand Opera Young Patronesses of the Opera Competition, Fourth Prize at both the Licia Albanese Puccini Foundation Competition and the Giulio Gari Foundation Competition and recently the 2015 Gilda Morelli Prize for Best Vocal and Dramatic Interpretation of an Aria at the Concurso Nacional de Canto Carlo Morelli in Mexico City, which was especially chosen by Francisco Araiza.
Adam Turner — ConductorSan Diego Opera debut. American conductor Adam Turner is quickly gaining momentum as a conductor to watch on international opera stages. Recently named Artistic Director of Virginia Opera (following four seasons as Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor), Maestro Turner garners critical acclaim for the breadth of his repertoire, artistic vision, and polished technique. In his inaugural season as Artistic Director of Virginia Opera, Maestro Turner will conduct performances of Street Scene, Don Giovanni, The Elixir of Love, and Madama Butterfly, in addition to Jack Perla’s An American Dream. On top of his productions at Virginia Opera, he will conduct The Seven Deadly Sins for the Buffalo Philharmonic, Eugene Onegin with Intermountain Opera Bozeman, and Jake Heggie’s Three Decembers with San Diego Opera. Mo. Turner will also return to Central City Opera to conduct Madama Butterfly for the 2019 summer season. In recent seasons, Mr. Turner conducted Der Freischütz, The Seven Deadly Sins, Pagliacci, La bohème, and Der fliegende Holländer at Virginia Opera, Händel’s Messiah at Virginia Symphony, Roméo et Juliette at Lyric Opera Baltimore, The Halloween Tree with American Lyric Theatre at Arizona State University and collaborated with renowned conductor John DeMain on Washington National Opera’s production of Kurt Weill’s final stage composition Lost in the Stars. Additionally, The Kurt Weill Foundation named Maestro Turner the inaugural recipient of the Julius Rudel/Kurt Weill Conducting Fellowship in 2015. Prior to his appointment to Virginia Opera he held administrative and music staff appointments at houses across the country including Seattle Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Central City Opera, Portland Opera, Tulsa Opera, Syracuse Opera, and Ash Lawn Opera.
Karen Tiller — Director
San Diego Opera debut. Ms. Tiller has worked on the administrative and artistic staffs of Virginia Opera, Opera Memphis, OFNJ, Music Theatre Group and Hawaii Opera Theatre (HOT). In 2004, she moved to Honolulu to become the Executive Director of HOT. She retired from the position in 2013, to take on the role of mother to Sophia… and now Eli in 2016.
Throughout her time at HOT, she directed several critically acclaimed productions including: Susannah, Jun Kaneko’s Madama Butterfly, The Pearl Fishers, and Turandot. Other notable productions in her career include; Sweeney Todd at HOT, The Turn of the Screw at Opera Memphis and Orpheo et Euridice at OFNJ. She directed Three Decembers for HOT with Frederica von Stade, at the Hawaii Theater Centre in 2016 and recently directed the same work with Ms. von Stade at the Livermore Valley Opera in April 2018.
In April of 2018 Ms. Tiller returned to HOT once again to become the interim General Director. Karen serves as Treasurer for the national board of the Joyful Heart Foundation and is a trustee for the Kapiolani Hospital Foundation in Honolulu. She also serves as Commissioner for the Hawaii State Foundation on Culture and the Arts.
Jake Heggie — ComposerJake Heggie, Composer & Pianist Jake Heggie is the composer of the operas Dead Man Walking, Moby-Dick, It’s A Wonderful Life, Great Scott, Three Decembers, Out of Darkness: Two Remain, and the choral opera, The Radio Hour, among others. He has also composed nearly 300 songs, as well as chamber, choral and orchestral works. The operas – most created with writers Terrence McNally or Gene Scheer – have been produced on five continents. Moby-Dick Dead Man Walking (McNally) has received 60 international productions and has been recorded twice. Three Decembers has received nearly two dozen international productions. The composer was recently awarded the Eddie Medora King prize from the UT Austin Butler School of Music, and the Champion Award from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. A Guggenheim Fellow, Heggie has served as a mentor for the Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative and is a frequent guest artist at universities, conservatories and festivals throughout the USA and Canada. He and Gene Scheer are currently at work on If I Were You, based on the Faustian story by Julian Green, for the Merola Opera Program’s 2019 season. jakeheggie.com
Gene Scheer — Librettist
American librettist Gene Scheer has written the text for composer Tobias Picker’s An American Tragedy for the Metropolitan Opera and Thérèse Raquin for The Dallas Opera. With composer Jake Heggie he has written the text for Three Decembers for Houston Grand Opera and San Francisco Opera, the lyric drama To Hell and Back, the operas Moby-Dick and It’s A Wonderful Life, as well as a number of song cycles and For a Look or a Touch. Other notable collaborations include lyrics for Wynton Marsalis’s It Never Goes Away and the oratorio August 4, 1964 for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. As a composer he has written a number of songs for singers such as Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Stephanie Blythe, Denyce Graves and Nathan Gunn.