Peter Mowry

Peter Mowrey's electronic opera, Sangreal, to debut April 14-16 at The College of Wooster's Freelander Theatre.


Sangreal: an Original Electronic Opera with a Sound Like No Other

Peter Mowrey’s inspiring original score and script to debut April 14-16 at The College of Wooster

18 March 2016 by John Finn

WOOSTER, Ohio — Humankind’s relentless pursuit of the elusive holy grail has been set to music in an imaginative, evocative, and entertaining new opera by Peter Mowrey, titled Sangreal. The production’s world premiere will take place April 14-16 at The College of Wooster’s Freedlander Theatre (329 E. University St.). Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. each evening.

Mowrey, professor of music at Wooster, has written the libretto and the score, which he says has given him the flexibility to develop a particular rhythm for the production. “If I were setting Walt Whitman or Emily Dickinson, I would be bound by the original text,” he says, “but because these are my words, they can change and evolve as the piece gets written. Musical demands can alter the text, which can then inspire new changes in the music, and so on.”

The inspiration came from a first-year seminar Mowrey taught years ago at Wooster that explored mythical images and the metaphorical meaning of grail legends. He was also influenced by Bluebeard’s Castle, a one-act opera by Hungarian composer Béla Bartók set in a dreamlike, interior landscape. Most of the foundational work was done during a sabbatical supported by a Luce Grant that enabled him to purchase the software and hardware to create the score, which he says is influenced by a variety of genres, from classical to rock.

Mowrey describes Sangreal as “electric” for its exclusive use of electronic accompaniment. The piece was written to be played by four keyboardists triggering sampled sounds; however, the inaugural showing will feature just one musician — Mowrey himself — controlling the accompaniment from his computer. “Using electronics has given me access to a broader range of sounds,” says Mowrey, who will be able to adjust the pace of the accompaniment, speeding up or slowing down the music in real time to stay in sync with the singers.

Set in an abyss of undefined ruins, Sangreal features seven characters, beginning with a knight (bass-baritone Frank Ward, Jr.) and progressing through time to include a madwoman (soprano Susan Wallin), a courtesan (mezzo-soprano Denise Milner Howell), a scientist (baritone Brian Keith Johnson), an artist (soprano Carrie deLapp Culver), a priest (tenor Timothy Culver), and a modern businesswoman (soprano Julie Myers-Pruchenski).

An opera that began as “a love song to the arts and sciences” evolved into a broader statement about compassion, beauty, and sacrifice. “At first, the characters were not three dimensional,” says Mowrey, “but as I continued writing, I realized that I needed to give them each something deeper to say.”

Each of the characters falls asleep and begins to dream of the grail before waking up and finding themselves in the same place. Conflict soon arises, however. “The characters argue over what the grail even is, and who is worthy of it,” says Mowrey. “This leads to unexpected violence, after which the question of how to find healing and restoration becomes even more urgent.”

Mowrey expects the production to appeal to a broad audience, from those who love opera to those who don’t. “It doesn’t fit any of the stereotypes,” he says. “It’s a sound that most people have never heard before.”

The production is directed by Shirley Huston-Findley, professor of theater at Wooster. The technical director is Michael Schafer, while Charlene Gross is the costume and scenic designer. In addition, Chuck Findley is handling the sound design, and Kent Sprague is overseeing the lighting design. The stage manager is Helen Rooker.

Tickets are $9 for general admission seating; $6 for senior citizens and non-College of Wooster students. Additional information is available by phone (330-263-2541) or e-mail.