Eric Salzman: Composer, Author, Music Theater Innovator

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Civilization & Its Discontents

Civilization and Its Discontents is the title of a famous essay of Sigmund Freud about the ills of society. Civilization & Its Discontents is also the title of a ground-breaking new music theater piece, a lively and biting musical satire written and composed jointly by Michael Sahl and Eric Salzman. It was originally a prize-winning off-off-Broadway music theater comedy, a music-theater recording for National Public Radio that had one of the largest air plays of any work of its kind, and a Prix Italia winner that was aired on radio stations around the world.

The recorded form of the work, especially produced for radio and disc by the authors, originally issued by Nonesuch and now re-issued by Labor, uses the form of a musical radio drama to capture the dark side of the so-called ‘me’ generation in a whirlwind of ‘break-a-leg’ dance music, pick-ups, one-night stands, frantic phone calls, egocentric confrontations and mad man hijinks.

Carlos Arachnid invites us to join him and his friends in Club Bide-a-wee whose motto is “If it feels good, do it!” Dancing alternates with ‘freeze-frame’ moments of high anxiety, angry words and sexual come-ons.

Scene II is in Jill Goodheart’s bedroom where a seduction scene is interrupted by a constant string of phone calls, the arrival of Jill’s boyfriend and the deus ex machina appearance of Arachnid who brings us back to Club Bide-a-wee for a deconstructed dance orgy and an ironic morality.

Moments of ’80s retro alternate with stunning sound images, a relentless musical flow, seduction music of extreme beauty and a social commentary that is as amusing as it is scary and remarkably up-to-date.

Jukebox in the Tavern of Love

Jukebox in the Tavern of LoveThe Western Wind production of “Jukebox in the Tavern of Love” by Valeria Vasilevski and Eric Salzman at The Flea Theatre in downtown Manhattan, May/June 2008 (Valeria Vasilevski directing)

A staged reading of the completed and revised work took place at the Tenri Center in NYC on June 20, 2007. The full production took place in May to June 2008 at The Flea Theater in New York’s Tribeca. The work was performed on a double bill with the Adriano Banchieri “Barca di Venetia per Padova” and both works were directed by Valeria Vasilevski. Audio (CD) and video (DVD) recordings are in production.

Excerpts from the work have been performed regularly by the Western Wind in concert during the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

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The True Last Words of Dutch Schultz

Dutch SchultzAmerican premiere as presented by Symphony Space and the Center for Contemporary Opera as a featured event at Wall-to-Wall Opera, May 2007. Dutch played by Dirk Weiler, the nurse/singer/girlfriend by Robyn Payne, the mob quartet by Jorge Garza, Marshall Coid, Ross Beneliel and Nathan Baer. Photo by Richard Marshall.

Performances

World Premiere

Concert Premiere

Dutch SchultzPhoto by Richard Marshall

VOX (Opera/Music-Theater Consortium)

On the Edge (Opera/Music-Theater Consortium)

Wall-to-Wall Opera

Synopsis

Dutch SchultzPhoto by Richard Marshall

The True Last Words of Dutch Schultz is based on the actual 1200 dying words of Dutch Schultz, Public Enemy No. 1. Dutch, born Arthur Flegenheimer, was an infamous New York gangster in the 1920s and ’30s who controlled the sale of illegal alcohol during the Prohibition Era. Prohibition precipitated a lively and violent underground that laid a net of organized crime still active today. Dutch was its king.

With the end of Prohibition, the underworld took control of an illegal lottery known as the Numbers Racket. It was the Great Depression and families had a hard time putting bread on the table and yet Dutch was earning as much as $30,000 a day on the Numbers alone!

In October, 1935, Dutch was mysteriously gunned down in the toilet of a Newark chophouse. He was taken to the hospital and, during the hours before his death, every delirious word he uttered was recorded by a police stenographer. His interrogation was relentless as the police desperately tried to find the key that would open up the underground world of organized crime.

Dutch’s final words speak to his own tumultuous history, to his time (not so unlike our own) as well as to the universal moment of death when bravado shatters, time compresses and accelerates and each breath becomes a stay of execution.

The work is written for the voice and extended technique of Theo Bleckmann. A male barbershop quartet portrays Dutch’s mob as well as some of the ghost-like figures of his life who reappear at the moment of his death. The voice of the mother completes the ensemble. The instrumentation includes a mistuned violin, tuba, keyboards, percussion and a Foley table of acoustic sound effects of the type used in early radio and film. We also hear the voice of the late William Burroughs, a self-described literary outlaw, himself obsessed with death, darkness and Dutch.

  1. Prologue: Requiem for a Gangster (violin scordatura)
  2. Interrogation (Dutch and ensemble)
  3. Dutch Meets His Mother (Dutch, Mother, Mob a capella)
  4. The Racket (Dutch, mob, ensemble)
  5. Speak Easy (film with Girl Friend, ensemble with violin solo)
  6. The Nightmare (Dutch solo)
  7. My Friends Think I Do a Better Job (Dutch, Mob, Mother, ensemble)

Cast and Instrumentation

The Gangster Dutch Schultz
baritone, extended voice

Dutch’s Mob
male vocal quartet TTBB (low bass)

Dutch’s Mother/Girlfriend
mezzo-soprano

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Cassandra

Performances

Premiere

Staged Premiere

6 Tage Oper (6-Day Opera)

La Prière du Loup (Wolfman Prayer)

Wolfman's PrayerAmerican premiere performed by Rinde Eckert at the Festival of the Hamptons, Bridgehampton, N.Y., July 2003. Photo by Richard Marshall.

Premiere

American Premiere

La bonne âme de Setchouan

Performances

N.B.: This version of the play was written by Brecht in Santa Monica, California, for a projected Broadway production with music by Kurt Weill. Nothing came of this project and this production is believed to be the first staging of this version of the piece.

A William Meredith Bestiary

Performances

Premiere

The Odyssey of Homer

Music for the National Radio Theater Production

Written, produced and directed by Yuri Rasovsky with Ed Asner, Irene Worth, Barry Morse, Shepperd Strudwick, John Glover and many others. The extensive musical score was composed, directed, recorded and produced by Eric Salzman. This production won Peabody, Armstrong, Ohio State, San Francisco State and Earphones Awards. Recently released on cassette, CD and MP3 CD by Downpour.

Abel Gance à New York

Opera by François Godin (French)

Performances

Work-in-progress Presentation by Chants Libres at NewOp8

Strike Up the Band

This “pocket” version of the George Kaufman/Ira Gershwin/George Gershwin Strike Up the Band (adapted by Martine-Josephine Thomas; adapted, arranged and music-directed by Eric Salzman) for concert and workshop performances in Paris and Quimper, France, over various periods of time, 2000-2002; details on request.

Suite from Strike Up the Band

For chamber orchestra
Based on Salzman’s Strike Up the Band

Commissioned by L’Orchestre de Sciences Po, Paris, and performed there under the direction of Elizabeth Askren-Brie on June 10, 12, 13 and 15, 2006. The American premiere (solo version for 13 players took place at Washington Square Festival, New York, on July 17, 2007, under the direction of David Oei.

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Dances

Arranged for string quartet or string orchestra from early prepared piano pieces by John Cage; published by C.F. Peters; various performances and recordings by the Kronos Quartet and others.

cummings set

Three of the songs—lady, will you come with me, cruelly love, and if I have made my lady—performed by Lars Woodhul (baritone) and Shinah Riley (piano) at Greenwich House Music School, December 13, 2001.

Performances