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Des Moines Metro Opera Presents Gregory Spears's Fellow Travelers

Jul. 15, 2021

The acclaimed opera, Fellow Travelersby Gregory Spears and Greg Pierce based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mallon, was presented on July 17 by Des Moines Metro Opera in a production directed by Marcus Shields and conducted by Carolyn Watson. Fellow Travelers has enjoyed great success since its premiere at the Cincinnati Opera in 2016 with performances taking place at opera companies throughout the US and with several new productions planned in the 2021/22 season. 

Fellow Travelers follows the story of Hawk and Tim who become clandestine lovers at the height of the McCarthy Era in 1950's Washington D.C. Recent college graduate Timothy Laughlin is eager to join the crusade against communism. A chance encounter with handsome State Department official Hawkins Fuller leads to Tim’s first job—and his first love affair with a man. Drawn into a maelstrom of deceit, Tim struggles to reconcile his political convictions and his forbidden love for Fuller. The piece uses the love affair of Laughlin and Fuller to shed light on the "lavender scare”, an often-overlooked period of McCarthyism that resulted in the mass firings of suspected homosexuals from the United States government. “It’s about a part of our history which was almost invisible,” Spears says of Fellow Travelers, “and I think one of the things opera can do is make invisible things visible.” 

Critics have universally praised Fellow Travelers for the boldness of its story and the beauty of Spears’s music. Corinna da Fonseca Wollheim (New York Times) praises Fellow Travelers as “...the most romantic new opera I have seen in years. It’s also one of the most successfully political,” and John von Rhein (Chicago Tribune) declares, “... a poignant and moving meditation.... Fellow Travelers is one of the most accomplished new American operas I have encountered in recent years.” And Alex Ross (The New Yorker) notes "...the intimate power of Spears's musical voice, which is unlike that of any composer now working, is a kind of shivery, fraught simplicity. Spears has an eerie ability to suggest interior landscapes that go unseen, interior lives that go unspoken. In giving us glimpses of hidden selves, his music becomes universal in reach."

(Highlights from the 2016 production of Fellow Travelers at Cincinnati Opera)

Fellow Travelers was developed and co-commissioned by G. Sterling Zinsmeyer and Cincinnati Opera and originally produced by Cincinnati Opera in a production created by Kevin Newbury. The opera was also developed through “Opera Fusion: New Works,” a joint venture between Cincinnati Opera and the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.

Singers and pianists should note that piano-vocal reductions of the arias: "I Worry, That's All", "Last Night", and "Our Very Own Home", from Fellow Travelers are published separately and available on PSNY here.

Gregory Spears

Fellow Travelers (2016)

an opera in two acts

Libretto (En) by Greg Pierce
based on the novel “Fellow Travelers” by Thomas Mallon
3 sop, ten, 3 bar, b-bar