OPERA & THEATER
"Entrancing... Suspenseful... His score atmospherically imagines the antique and gothic."
American Record Guide
"Attractive neo-Romantic music. His vocal lines are lyrical. His writing for orchestra, too, is beautiful."
The New York Times
"Maximum drama. Melodically memorable. An auspicious debut for Eyerly as an opera composer."
"Lovely arias... Elegant ensembles... Eyerly also did a good job with the final confrontation."
The Wall Street Journal
"It's a thrilling story. The five principals receive excellent parts. Eyerly's music is tonal; he writes engaging melodies."
"Eyerly's libretto moves along briskly, and cuts Hawthorne's dourness with occasional humorous touches."
The New York Times
"His music projects much of the mystery and anxiety of Hawthorne's novel. It is also remarkably singable."
The Toronto Star
"Clear narrative. The set pieces are well-placed."
"A shapely, sensuous new American opera. Eyerly wrote his own dramatically viable libretto. His instrumentation is lush or creepy, as warranted. Genuine moments of spookiness and budding romance seep through the ring of family conflicts."
American Record Guide
The House of Seven Gables
In the gloomy, haunted House of Seven Gables, Hepzibah Pyncheon cares for her brother, Clifford. Once brilliant, Clifford is now feeble, having languished in prison 30 years for committing murder. But is he guilty? Was he framed by his cousin Jaffrey, today an eminent judge? As Clifford regains strength, aided by his young cousin Phoebe, and a mysterious boarder, Holgrave, he prepares for the final confrontation with Jaffrey.
Threatening all is the curse, 'GOD WILL GIVE YOU BLOOD TO DRINK!' Centuries before, the Pyncheons' house was built on stolen ground. Ever since, the family history has been riddled with unexplained deaths, foreshadowed when the harpsichord plays by itself. Now the final chapter of that history is written.
Awarded an NEA grant to begin writing the opera, Eyerly spent a summer in Salem, Massachusetts, where the actual House of Seven Gables stands. He remarks, "I'm a great believer in 'place.' Though the story is fictional, it's set in a real house, which the author sometimes visited." But Eyerly got more than he bargained for: one night he was allowed to sleep in the House itself!
Hepzibah Pyncheon, owner of the house (Mezzo-soprano)
Clifford Pyncheon, her brother (Tenor)
Jaffrey Pyncheon, cousin to Hepzibah and Clifford (Baritone)
Phoebe Pyncheon, young cousin to all the above (Soprano)
Holgrave, a boarder in the house (Bass)
Ensemble of 16 or more, whose members serve as chorus and also take small roles.
2-2-2-2, 2-2-2-1, Timpani, Percussion (1 player), Harp, Strings.
Gables is in three acts, though only one intermission is needed, between I and II. There are two settings: House interior (Acts I and III) and Garden (Act II). In the premiere production, the set change between II and III took place in view of the audience.
The action takes place in the Pyncheon family's House of Seven Gables in Salem, Massachusetts, about 1850.
Dominating the gloom is a huge portrait of Colonel Pyncheon, long-dead patriarch. According to his will, the portrait may never be touched.
ACT I. Hepzibah Pyncheon comforts her brother, Clifford, home after years in prison for murder. He is weak and disoriented but rages at the thought of his cousin, Jaffrey, on whom he vows revenge. Hepzibah's young cousin Phoebe arrives. Orphaned and homeless, Phoebe seeks a temporary place to stay. Hepzibah tries to frighten her off but Clifford reappears and is delighted by the girl. Hepzibah allows her to remain.
The next morning Phoebe meets a boarder, Holgrave, who styles himself a student of Pyncheon family history. He relates that thirty years ago, Clifford was found guilty - on flimsy evidence - of murdering his wealthy uncle Peter. The fortune which would have gone to Clifford instead went to Jaffrey. A growing attraction between Holgrave and Phoebe is interrupted by the arrival of Jaffrey himself; he tries unsuccessfully to see Clifford and vows to return. Holgrave tells Phoebe the grim story of her family's curse: in 1692 a farmer, Matthew Maule, lived on land which Colonel Pyncheon desired. The Colonel started a rumor that Maule was a witch, leading to his execution. On the gallows, Maule cried out to Colonel Pyncheon: "GOD WILL GIVE YOU BLOOD TO DRINK!" The Colonel seized the dead man's land and built on it the House of Seven Gables.
The House of Seven Gables — sample tracks
A Night in the House: Eyerly's Account
"Thanks to an NEA grant, I started work on the opera by spending six weeks in Salem, Massachusetts, where the actual House of Seven Gables stands. It's now a museum. I learned that the house contains a bedroom (off-limits to museum-goers), which on rare occasions is made available to scholars for overnight use. Thanks to the site's administrator, I was allowed to sleep over at the House of the Seven Gables. Alone. (I think.) So, on an appropriately blustery evening, I arrived at the House with my toothbrush and pajamas. I wandered freely for one hour, after which time the alarms were turned on, leaving me confined to the bedroom and grounds.
And what happened? I'd love to say I saw a ghost. More helpfully, perhaps, I caught a glimpse of Hawthorne's world. A few excerpts from my notebook that night:
"shadows stream from their sources like manes of hair in the wind, like flames streaming from a burning log..."
"creaks - (some very loud) snap crackle pop at odd times, like a stray fire-cracker going off in the distance..."
"the beautiful parlor, red and gold, warm... also, the whiff of too-fragrant, slightly rotted sickly sweet flowers..."
"dead moth in the window in Clifford's room..."
A terrifying experience did occur the next morning. As I sat on the bed tying my shoes, I heard heavy footsteps coming up the stairs. Slowly but purposefully they drew to my door. A hand grasped the knob, turned it, and... The security guard yelped when he saw me. He hadn't been told I was there.
In Hawthorne's story, the house itself is almost a character. Gazing at its walls, I felt a sense of falling... of dust settling, of time passing. Attempting to capture this, I composed the progression of seven chords which opens Act One (slow, descending whole notes). This progression, often varied, underpins key moments in the opera. The fact that there are seven chords is deliberate. I liked the idea of 'sevenness' as a structural element. By no means does every motive comprise seven notes, but several important ones do, for example the curse hurled on the Pyncheon family: 'GOD WILL GIVE YOU BLOOD TO DRINK!' Here I must thank Nathaniel Hawthorne for providing seven syllables.
One more memory from the 'sleepover': Below my room was an office, which like the bedroom was off-limits to the museum tour. It's where the site staff worked, so modern office equipment lay incongruously among 17th century furniture. Early in the morning, an office phone rang. 'Bizarre,' I thought; 'who would call the House of Seven Gables at 3 a.m.?' Later I told a friend. He thought a moment and said, 'You should have answered. It might have been Nate.'"
OPERA & THEATER — Other Theater Works
A musical comedy work-in-progress, based on true events.
Setting: modern day Manhattan.
Question: In a world of giant corporations, can one find love, success, a lost dog - and Puccini?
On Blue Mountain
A musical theater piece conceived for amateur choruses and community theater groups. Based on Appalachian folklore. Commissioned by Philip Morris Companies, Inc., originally for the Philip Morris Chorale, which performed the world premiere at Town Hall, New York, conducted by Rebecca Scott and directed by the composer.
The simple story of a young man who must choose between life in his mountain community, versus a new life in the "flatlands," is graced with colorful scenes such as a tall-tale contest, a church service, a quilting bee and a (rigged) Election Day. Generous passages of the score feature chorus. A small number of principal roles, requiring more developed singing and acting skills, are augmented by many small roles taken from the chorus, allowing for a range of talents to be displayed. Spoken dialogue scenes alternate with musical numbers.
Highlights include "Fiddler's Tale," a ghost story about learning to play violin in a graveyard (spoken monologue); "A Child of Mine," a mother's plea to her son as he contemplates leaving home (solo song); "But the Land is Just Gone," a ballad about the ravages of mining (male quartet); "A Fire and a Quilt," an ensemble number depicting women as they sew and trade gossip (female octet); and "We Will Learn Our Lesson Well," a sweeping hymn for the entire community.
On Blue Mountain may be performed with either small orchestra, or with piano and violin (the latter needed for one number). The orchestra consists of 12 players: 1 flute, 1 oboe, 1 clarinet, 1 bassoon, 2 horns, string quartet with double bass, and piano.