During the summer of 2016 I was the first Composer in Residence with Chautauqua Opera, and I composed three works for premieres by Chautauqua Opera Young Artists. This setting, “Rose,” was composed for mezzo-soprano Tesia Kwarteng and was premiered by her, with Emily Urbanek on piano, at the Athenaeum Hotel on June 30, 2016. I had long wanted to set a text by American writer Ann Patchett, and it was serendipitous that she was lecturing at the Chautauqua Institution that very morning. I requested and received permission from her to adapt a selection from her debut novel The Patron Saint of Liars, and was more than delighted that she came to the premiere of this setting later that afternoon.
Rose is the principal female character in The Patron Saint of Liars, and this particular moment is pivotal for her: while out walking on her own one evening, she chances upon the cottage of the groundskeeper of the home for “troubled girls” (read: pregnant and unmarried) where she is staying. She decides, while observing him alone and lonely, that she will marry him and they will raise her expected child together.
from The Patron Saint of Liars
by Ann Patchett (adapted by Jeremy Gill)
I came upon the groundskeeper’s cottage unexpectedly,
turned into a clearing and found it there.
It was small and square
and smoke came through the chimney
and made the air smell like fall.
The light from the windows fell
in long yellow lines across the ground
and I could see him sitting at a table.
He looked as lonely as me.
He wasn’t reading or eating,
just sitting there quietly,
staring at his hands.
His face looked so empty and lost in the bright kitchen light
that I wanted to touch it,
just to be there behind him for a moment
and put my hand on his cheek.
Nights must have seemed endless to him,
with no one to say his name.