Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Hamilton Opera by Flannery Cunningham

"Everything is legal in New Jersey."       
       —Lin-Manuel Miranda, "Hamilton"

Seeing Lin-Manuel Miranda's extraordinary musical "Hamilton" yesterday reminded me of a chance encounter last year with composer Flannery Cunningham. We were seated next to each other on an Aer Lingus flight home from Dublin and I couldn't help noticing she was doing a little in-flight composing. I love encountering creative people and struck up a conversation which one hopes didn't effect her productivity too adversely. She is influenced by 14th-century ars nova chanson, yet some of her own work incorporates contemporary electronic media.

Guillaume de Machaut (1300-1377) 
Puis qu'en oubli
A 14th-century ars nova period polyphonic chanson

As it turns out, her senior thesis at Princeton University was the composition of the opera Weehawken about the famous duel between Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr. Ms. Cunningham did the historical research and wrote the libretto as well. The chamber opera received its first performance at Princeton in 2013. Three excerpts can be heard on Ms. Cunningham's website. At the time I spoke with her, Ms. Cunningham had not heard the score of "Hamilton."

A scene from Flannery Cunningham's chamber opera Weehawken


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