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"The Classical Style" Debuts

Alums Jennifer Zetlan as Mozart and Dominic Armstrong (right) as Haydn with bass-baritone Ashraf Sewailam as Beethoven in The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts).

 (Photo by Timothy Norris)

This summer’s Ojai Festival, the 68th edition of this California music extravaganza, featured a unique premiere that was a true Juilliard affair. Called The Classical Style: An Opera (of Sorts), this work, which was live-streamed, was composed by incoming faculty member Steven Stucky with a libretto by Jeremy Denk (D.M.A. ’01, piano), who was also the music director of the this year’s festival. 

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The opera was inspired by The Classical Style, the 1971 study of the music of Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven by the pianist Charles Rosen (Pre-College ’39). The book was and remains surprisingly popular—it won a National Book Award. Still—an opera? Most people who were later involved were a bit skeptical that the scholarly work could be staged. But the opera, the festival’s first commission, drew strong reviews. 

Several of the main characters were sung by Juilliard grads: tenor Dominic Armstrong (M.M. ’05) and mezzo-soprano Jennifer Zetlan (M.M. ’06, Artist Diploma ’09) took the roles of Haydn and Mozart while bass-baritone Aubrey Allicock (Artist Diploma ’14) and mezzo-soprano Rachel Calloway (B.M. ’04) portrayed Tonic and Dominant. Faculty member Mary Birnbaum directed the performance, and the music was performed by the Knights, the ensemble founded by Colin Jacobsen (Pre-College ’94, BM ’99, violin) and Eric Jacobsen (Pre-College ’00; B.M. ’04, cello).

Prior to the premiere, Ara Guzelimian, Juilliard’s dean and the director of the festival’s lecture series, interviewed Denk and the Jacobsen. The opera was co-commissioned by the Ojai Music Festival, Cal Performances at U.C. Berkeley, Carnegie Hall, and the Aspen Music Festival and School.

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