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Total run time: Approx. 1 hour and 15 minutes - no intermission

September 8 & 9, 2017

7:30 PM

Kranzberg Arts Center- Studio Theater

501 N Grand Blvd 

St. Louis, MO 63103

About Tesla's Pigeon:

In the 1920's to 40's, Serbian-American scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla lived out his twilight years having metaphorically wrecked himself on Manhattan Island, bankrupted and broken by a public relations war with Thomas Edison. A staunch believer in the connection between his genius and sexual abstinence, Tesla shunned women, choosing instead to feed and care for street pigeons in his hotel room at the New Yorker. His closest friend was a white dove that visited him every day at his hotel room window. In moments of delirium, Tesla believed this pigeon to have mystical knowledge and the ability to communicate with him, and declared to friends that he was in love with her. One night, the bird flew into Tesla's room close to death, and according to Tesla, a light came from her eyes more intense than that of the most powerful lamps in his laboratory before she died in his arms. Tesla said that at that same moment, he knew his life's work was finished. Tesla's Pigeon is sung from the dove's perspective in these final moments, and explores parallels between the relationship between Tesla and his pigeon, and Prospero and Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest, with text adapted from Ariel's songs, Goethe's Faust, the poetry of George Sylvester Viereck, Serbian traditional song and poetry, and personal letters to Tesla.

About the composer:

Born and raised in Australia, Melissa Dunphy moved to the United States in 2003 and has since become an award-winning and acclaimed composer specializing in political and theatrical music. She first came to national attention in 2009 when her large-scale choral work the Gonzales Cantata, written while still an undergraduate at West Chester University, was featured in The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, Harper’s Magazine, National Review, Comedy Central, and on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. The Gonzales Cantata was subsequently staged by the American Opera Theater and played a sold-out run in Baltimore. Word of the Gonzales Cantata has since spread internationally, including to Croatian President Ivo Josipović, who played excerpts in a speech he gave at Yale University on politics and music in September 2014.

Dunphy's first song cycle Tesla's Pigeon, has been recognized with a Spirit of Tesla award by the Tesla Science Foundation, first place in the 2012 National Association of Teachers of Singing Art Song Composition Award, the American Prize, and inclusion in the Chicago Ensemble Discover America VIII. Learn more about Melissa and her music HERE.

Jake Heggie is the composer of the operas Dead Man Walking, Moby-Dick, It’s A Wonderful Life, Great Scott, Three Decembers, Out of Darkness: Two Remain, and the choral opera, The Radio Hour, among others. He has also composed nearly 300 songs, as well as chamber, choral and orchestral works. The operas – most created with writers Terrence McNally or Gene Scheer – have been produced on five continents. Moby-Dick (Scheer) was telecast throughout the United States as part of Great Performances’ 40th Season and released on DVD (EuroArts). Dead Man Walking (McNally) has received nearly 50 international productions and has been recorded twice. Three Decembers has received nearly 20 international productions. The composer was recently awarded the Eddie Medora King prize from the UT Austin Butler School of Music, and the Champion Award from the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. A Guggenheim Fellow, Heggie has served as a mentor for the Washington National Opera’s American Opera Initiative and is a frequent guest artist at universities, conservatories and festivals throughout the USA and Canada. He and Gene Scheer are currently at work on If I Were You, based on the Faustian story by Julian Green, for the Merola Opera Program’s 2019 season.

Gene Scheer’s work is noted for its scope and versatility. With the composer Jake Heggie, he has collaborated on many projects, including the critically acclaimed 2010 Dallas Opera world premiere, Moby-Dick, starring Ben Heppner as Captain Ahab; Three Decembers (Houston Grand Opera), which starred Frederica von Stade; and the lyric drama To Hell and Back (Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra), which featured Patti LuPone. Other works by Scheer and Heggie include Camille Claudel: Into the fire, a song cycle premiered by Joyce di Donato and the Alexander String Quartet. Mr. Scheer worked as librettist with Tobias Picker on An American Tragedy, which premiered at the Metropolitan Opera in 2005. Other collaborations include the lyrics for Wynton Marsalis’s It Never Goes Away, featured in Mr. Marsalis’s work Congo Square.  With the composer Steven Stucky, Mr. Scheer wrote the oratorio August 4, 1964, for the

Dallas Symphony Orchestra. The work was nominated for a Grammy in 2012 for best classical composition. In 2015, Mr. Scheer collaborated with Joby Talbot on the opera Everest, based on the doomed 1996 Everest expedition. With Jennifer Higdon, Mr. Scheer wrote an operatic adaptation of Cold Mountain, which premiered in the summer of 2015 at the Santa Fe Opera. This work won the International Opera award, presented in London, for the best World premiere in 2015. Recently, along with Ms. Higdon, Mr. Scheer was nominated for a Grammy for his work on Cold Mountain for best classical composition. In December of 2016 Mr. Scheer and Jake Heggie premiered an operatic adaptation of It’s a Wonderful Life for the Houston Grand Opera. Also a composer in his own right, Mr. Scheer has written a number of songs for singers such as Renée Fleming, Sylvia McNair, Stephanie Blythe, Jennifer Larmore, Denyce Graves, and Nathan Gunn.  The distinguished documentary filmmaker, Ken Burns, prominently featured Mr. Scheer’s song American Anthem (as sung by Norah Jones) in his Emmy Award-winning World War II documentary for PBS entitled The War.

About To Hell and Back:

Based on the Greco-Roman myth of Persephone, librettist Gene Scheer formulated a modern tale of two women: Stephanie and Anne. This is a story of gods and mortals – the ones within each of us. Stephanie (Persephone) is a young woman who has survived a violently abusive marriage to Peter (Pluto) thanks to a heroic act by Anne (Cyane). Both women are from a very small town in Appalachia. The story unfolds as Stephanie calls Anne. She has written her story down as part of her rehab in Arizona, and calls to see if Anne has received a copy. Anne is her hero, but is still in Appalachia living with the fact that it was her own son, Peter, who married Stephanie and nearly beat her to death; trying hard to believe it was something other than what it was; struggling to create a reality where she can live and not be torn apart by anguish.

About the composer & librettist:

Cast and Creative Team

-Click Artist's photo to learn more-

Kurtis Shoemake

Stage Director/Designer

Steve Callahan*

Nikola Tesla

Tesla's Pigeon

Nancy Mayo*

Collaborative Pianist

Hana Abrams*


To Hell and Back

Emily Truckenbrod*

The Pigeon

Tesla's Pigeon

Stephanie Ruggles


To Hell and Back

*Company Debut
Emily Truckenbrod as Tesla's Pigeon by Melissa Dunphy

Emily Truckenbrod as Tesla's Pigeon

Stephanie Ruggles as Anne in To Hell and Back by Jake Heggie & Gene Scheer

Stephanie Ruggles as ANNE in To Hell and Back

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