Shining Brow (opera)

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Shining Brow is an English language opera by Daron Hagen, first performed by the Madison Opera in Madison, Wisconsin, April 21, 1993. The libretto is by Paul Muldoon, and is based on a treatment co-written with the composer. The story concerns events in the life of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Hagen invited Muldoon to write the libretto while the two were both in residency at the MacDowell Colony, in Peterborough, New Hampshire during the summer of 1989.

Performance history[edit]

  • Premiere: April 21, 23, 25, and 27, 1993, by the Madison Opera, Madison, Wisconsin.
Conductor: Roland Johnson
Stage director: Stephen Wadsworth
Set designer: David Birn
Lighting designer: Christopher Akerlind
Costume designer: Laura Crow
The production was broadcast live statewide and subsequently broadcast twice on NPR's World of Opera.
Conductor: Lawrence Rapchak
Stage director: Ken Cazan
Set designer: Kevin Snow
Lighting designer: Marcus Dillard
Costume designer: Jeff Bauer
Conductor: JoAnn Falletta
Ensemble and chorus supervision: Beverly Wolff
  • First concert performance under the composer's direction: February 11-24, 2002, at the UNLV Opera Theater, with members of the Nevada Opera, Ham Concert Hall, UNLV, Las Vegas, Nevada.
Conductor: Daron Hagen
Chorus master: David Weiller
Conductor: JoAnn Falletta
Chorus master: L. Brett Scott
Stage director: Daron Hagen
Conductor: Robert Frankenberry
Stage director: Jonathan Eaton


Role Voice type Premiere Cast
21 April 1993
(Conductor: Roland Johnson)
Reduced Orchestration Premiere
23 July 1997
(Conductor: Lawrence Rapchak)
Premiere Recording
4 November 2006
(Conductor: JoAnn Falletta)
Chamber "Fallingwater" Version
7 June 2013
(Conductor: Robert Frankenberry)
Frank Lloyd Wright baritone Michael Sokol Robert Orth Robert Orth Kevin Kees
Mamah Cheney soprano Carolann Page Brenda Harris Brenda Harris Lara Lynn Cottrill
Louis Sullivan tenor Barry Busse Barry Busse Robert Frankenberry James Flora
Edwin Cheney bass-baritone Bradley Garvin Bradley Garvin Matthew Curran Dimitrie Lazich
Catherine Wright mezzo-soprano Kitt Reuter-Foss Kitt Reuter-Foss Elaine Valby Kara Cornell
Julian Carleton spoken John Odom Peter Mowhawk Elem Eley
Marion Mahoney / Draftsperson soprano / baritone Katherine Cloutier Rosa Pascarella James Demler
Maid lyric soprano Mimmi Fulmer Diane Ragains Gilda Lyons Anna McTiernan
Last Draftsman soprano / baritone Katherine Cloutier Rosa Pascarella James Demler
Draftsman tenor David Gagnon Charles Wolter Tony Barton
Waiter spoken John Tallman Peter Mowhawk Elem Eley
Wife 1 soprano Deanna Gibeau Sandra Cross Jennifer Lynn Reckamp
Wife 2 soprano Gale Ketteler Elizabeth Fauntleroy Gilda Lyons
Wife 3 soprano Lori Poulson Lilah Greendale Jennifer Lynn Reckamp
Townswoman 1 mezzo-soprano Joanna Johnston Meredith Barber / Patricia Meuller Jennifer Lynn Reckamp
Townswoman 2 mezzo-soprano Laura Tucker Cynthia Mallard / Jan Bickel Deborah Fleischer
Reporter tenor Kevin Jeffers Roy C. Smith Eric Fleischer
Workman 1 baritone Joel Kopischke Nicholas Solomon James Demler
Workman 2 baritone David Williams Jan Jarvis Tony Barton
Workman/reporter/photographer bass baritone Bruce Baumer Peter Van der Graaff James Demler
Workman/reporter/draftsman/guest baritone James Demler Henry Hunt Eric Fleischer
Workman/reporter/draftsman/guest tenor Patrick Jones Mark Meier Tony Barton
Draftsmen, townspeople, guests mixed chorus Madison Opera Chorus Chicago Opera Theater Chorus Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus
Orchestra Madison Symphony Chicago Opera Theater Orchestra Buffalo Philharmonic


The action takes place in Chicago, Illinois, at Taliesin, Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio in Spring Green, Wisconsin, and in Berlin, Germany, between 1903 and 1914.


The Cliff Dwellers Club, Chicago, 1903. Architect Louis Sullivan, mentor and friend of Frank Lloyd Wright, has been drinking all afternoon. He muses on his estrangement from Wright.

Act One[edit]

Wright's studio, Oak Park, Illinois, 1903. Wright pitches plans for a new house to wealthy Chicagoans Edwin and Mamah Cheney. He and Mamah flirt; her husband is concerned with costs. After they leave, Wright muses on Mamah; his wife Catherine overhears him and they quarrel.

The Cheney House construction site, six months later. Workmen sing, townswomen gossip; Wright and Mamah arrive to view the work as their liaison deepens. Edwin arrives and there is a showdown: Mamah tells Edwin she is leaving him for Wright. Afterwards, Edwin laments the fact that, while he has gained a house, he has lost his wife.

Mamah's apartment in Berlin, 1910. As Mamah translates some verses from German, she comes to terms with her strongly ambivalent feelings about her life with Wright, recognizing, despite her love for him, that her dream of an equal partnership with him is and will remain just that. Sullivan, in Chicago, echoes the sentiment.

Act Two[edit]

Taliesin, Spring Green, Christmas, 1911. Wright delivers a prepared statement attempting to explain his living out of wedlock with Mamah while still married to Catherine. Mamah, though at his side, is clearly disaffected.

Taliesin, Summer, 1914. During the course of a cocktail party, Wright pursues a new love interest as Mamah cannot help but observe; various clients, guests, colleagues, and employees — including an inebriated barbershop quartet of newspaper reporters — comment.

The Cliff Dwellers' Club, later that summer. Wright and Sullivan attempt a reconciliation, but are interrupted by Edwin Cheney, who delivers the news that Mamah's been murdered and Taliesin torched.

The ruins of Taliesin, later that night. The bodies of the dead are arrayed in the smoking remains of the house. A Maid explains that Julian Carleton, Wright's chef, has been found, his throat burned from drinking hydrochloric acid. Wright gropes for a way to go on, finds in the pocket of Mamah's coat a letter that gives him consolation of a sort. He vows to rebuild the house in her memory.



  • Casaglia, Gherardo (2005). "Shining Brow". L'Almanacco di Gherardo Casaglia (in Italian).

External links[edit]